Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why so many cops at Occupy Philly?

Juliana Reyes reports police lamentations that they're spending so much of their time and energy on the Occupy Philly protests:
For the first week and a half that Occupy Philly held court in City Hall, the Police Department's entire Neighborhood Services Unit was detailed to the protest to watch over its participants. That means for that week and a half, the roughly 30-officer unit, whose responsibilities include responding to abandoned vehicle complaints, recovering stolen cars and investigating reports of short dumping and graffiti, didn't exist in the rest of the city.

NSU's Sgt. Frank Spires said that all 3-1-1 complaints, as well as direct calls to the unit, were shelved until the detail was over.
It's a shame that neighborhoods will go without the service—but is that necessary? Consider this: The entire Philadelphia Police Department has roughly 6,650 officers to police a city of 1.5 million people—roughly one officer per 225 residents.

The population at Occupy Philadelphia is ever in flux. But let's be generous and say there's as many as 500 people there during the day. (That may be an extremely high estimate: One Twitter observer counted 140 activists at Tuesday night's General Assembly.) That means there is one officer for every 17 protesters on the ground.

Now: Policing a protest is a little different at policing neighborhoods. And City Hall probably deserves a higher level of protection than many spaces. But there hasn't been much in the way of crime or violence at Occupy Philly—I'm certain it would be national news if it had happened—and there's no indication the campers are going to turn into an angry mob.

So why not put, say, half the Neighborhood Services Unit back on the streets doing their regular job? That way the unit can keep performing its duties—even at a reduced rate—and the protesters can enjoy a still-extraordinary level of police protection. As it stands, diverting the entire unit doesn't appear to be a smart use of the city's resources.

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