Oakland's experience is hardly unique-similar missteps have occurred in Los Angeles and elsewhere. But Oakland perhaps best illustrates how disparate issues are complicating law enforcement's ability to deal with the Occupy phenomenon and perhaps future protests.
In the decade before the Occupy Movement, Oakland was the scene of several high-profile incidents, including the murder of four officers by Lovelle Mixon and the shooting of an unarmed black man by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle. Millions of dollars paid out behind a variety of force-related lawsuits only further compromised the city's budget. The results have been devastating to the Oakland Police Department.
The Oakland PD is 600 officers down, saddled with increasingly limiting force policies, and subject to a dissatisfied federal oversight committee. This decimated force has repeatedly been forced to call upon mutual aid resources that, as de facto agents of the Oakland Police Department, become active participants in problems that are at once uniquely Oakland's and already rife with potential lawsuits. These confrontations have resulted in injuries to two war veterans among the protesters and more disastrous public relations for the Oakland PD.
A Leaderless Movement
Even those who might side with the Occupy movement are questioning its tactics.
Jim Huffman, dean emeritus of Lewis and Clark Law School, is an advocate of civil disobedience as a political strategy. But writing for Dailycaller.com, Huffman notes that it is the movement's self-defining tactic of occupying venues for protracted periods of time that has found initially sympathetic mayors such as Michael Bloomberg in New York City and Sam Adams in Portland, Ore., re-evaluating their postures and rolling up the welcome mats. "In foregoing parade permits and marches in favor of establishing tent cities in violation of city ordinances the OM is violating laws that by any objective standard could hardly be called unreasonable," observes Huffman.
The movement's doctrine that "We really are all equal, no one above, and no one below" has also proven problematic for law enforcement. There are no designated leaders. Therefore there is no one in authority and no one for law enforcement officials or city government to negotiate with.
Worse, people claiming to be in charge could just be deluded. Valerie Krull, who participated in Occupy Olympia (Wash.), wrote: "We do not throw people away because they are addicts, or have mental health issues, or have any other aspect that makes them challenging to work with."
Violence and Anarchy
A few deluded homeless guys claiming to be in charge is one thing. But there's a darker side to the "come one, come all" philosophy reported by Krull. It welcomes people with many different agendas, including anarchists.
The movement's darker side has found creative expression ranging from 48-page police-brutality coloring books, to YouTube videos warning NYPD officers of forthcoming reprisals, to flyers advocating an occasional need to kill cops. The discovery of a weapons cache in Zuccotti Park following the dispersal of Wall Street protesters suggests there are those who consider acting on that perceived obligation.
Threats aside, IUPA's Roberts finds the Occupy Movement already culpable in hurting law enforcement in three key areas.
First, it is exhausting critical resources that are already very limited. "In every city where this has taken place, you've seen increased amounts of overtime-this at a time when police departments all over the country are facing cutbacks. They are damaging the departments financially right off the top," Roberts says. The damages stem from more than the expenditure of overtime. In Los Angeles, a city already more than $70 million in debt, Occupy-related costs in police operations and clean-up efforts were already well over $2 million by early December.
Second, not only do the demonstrations put their participants at a higher risk, but the public is increasingly endangered as many police officers are pulled away from their regular public safety duties.
Finally, it puts officers at risk because that kind of overtime in those kinds of intense situations leads to significant fatigue. "Fatigue is very dangerous to the police officer because it has a diminishing effect on their thinking processes," asserts Roberts. "This is particularly dangerous any time they're obligated to make a split-second decision."