The cost to police the rally held on April 27 to protest the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s speech ran from $350,000 to $500,000 – and Cal may have to pick up the tab.
Around 400 officers from various agencies, including the Berkeley Police Department, the UC Berkeley Police Department, the Hayward Police Department, and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department policed the campus as well as the area around Civic Center Park. Many of them were working overtime, according to Sgt. Ray Kelly, a public information officer for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.
The mutual aid coordinator for Alameda County did the math and determined that if each of the 400 officers was paid $85 an hour for working overtime, and worked 12 hours that day, that the cost of each officer was approximately $1,021, according to Kelly.
While the numbers are dramatic, the rally held in Civic Center Park was peaceful, said Kelly. There were no protests at Cal either.
“How do you measure success?” said Kelly. “Nothing happened that day. Was it the police presence? One person gets stabbed on the campus or injured, and the liability to the school is enormous. Vandalism itself can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don’t know what price tag you put on public protection.”
UC Berkeley will pay for at least some of the cost of the mutual aid, according to Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman.
“We are in contact with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to determine an appropriate level of reimbursement,” he said in an email. “We greatly appreciate ACSO’s partnership and efforts to help provide security for the Berkeley campus community.”
The overtime costs for the Sheriff’s Department were around $80,000, said Kelly.
Prior to April 27, there had been three violent – and expensive – rallies in Berkeley.
The black-clad antifa protesters who stormed Pauley Ballroom on Feb. 1 and forced the cancellation of Milo Yiannopolous’s lecture caused about $100,000 in damage to campus property, according to university officials. They then rampaged downtown and smashed business windows and doors and looted stores, causing $500,000 more in damage. Both the UC and Berkeley police took a hands-off approach that evening, issuing numerous dispersal orders but rarely intervening directly.
On March 4, pro-Trump supporters who had come to Civic Center Park were confronted by antifa activists. Fights broke out, ten people were arrested, and others were injured. Berkeley police have put the cost estimate for that rally at $90,000.
The two sides met again on April 15 and the violence was even worse. People from the right and the left fought hand-to-hand in the streets. Protesters threw potent firecrackers, rocks, and bagels and sprayed pepper spray in the eyes of their opponents. About 20 people were arrested. No price tag has been attached to that event yet, although Berkeley police had almost a full component of 176 officers on the street.
City and university officials were concerned that an April 27 talk by Coulter would also result in violence. UC Berkeley canceled her talk, stating that it could not find a secure enough facility for her to speak in. Officials at first offered to bring Coulter back in September and then said they had found a secure location for her talk on May 2.
Coulter rejected the May 2 date because it was in the middle of Dead Week when students are studying for exams. She kept suggesting via Twitter and in some interviews that she intended to come to UC Berkeley on April 27 anyway. Even though there was no venue available, many speculated that Coulter would speak at Sproul Plaza.
UC police and Berkeley police prepared for the uncertainty of policing an open public plaza with multiple entrances. Coulter only canceled her talk on April 26, but by that time hundreds of her supporters had vowed to come to Berkeley to defend “Free Speech.” They showed up en masse on April 27. This time, antifa mostly stayed away, however, leading to a peaceful rally.
Berkeley police called in the majority of its 176-officer squad for duty that day, according to Police Chief Andrew Greenwood. The Sheriff’s Department sent 80 deputies, who were stationed at UC Berkeley, said Kelly. There was a heavy police presence on the campus. (So heavy, if fact, that some students felt uncomfortable).
Kelly said the police presence was necessary.
“You have a university campus in session with students walking on campus. You then have these radicals on both sides who want to beat the shit out of each other. The university and law enforcement have an obligation to keep people safe. We have an obligation to protect property.”
Kelly said the tense situation may continue.
“So if Berkeley is becoming ground zero for the Free Speech movement again, or the protection of free speech, this could be a recurring issue,” he said. “We are lucky no one has been killed there with what is going on. These guys walk around with flags with ax handles attached to them. One hit over the head with that and you can be done for.”