IT TURNS OUT that the freedom to protest comes with a price tag.
The first five days of Occupy Philadelphia cost the city $164,000 in police overtime, police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers said yesterday, an average of about $32,800 a day. That number will only grow as the protest stretches into a seventh day today.
Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, acknowledged that dealing with the protest is a financial challenge.
"We try to control overtime as much as possible, especially in these economic times, when we don't have the kind of contingency-funding cushion built into our operating budget," Gillison said. "We have done very well in controlling overtime over the past three years. This will certainly challenge us as this demonstration continues."
Evers said that the first day was the priciest but that a daily breakdown was not immediately available.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said last week that he would not take police out of high-crime areas, but a "considerable amount" of officers have been relocated from their regular duties to monitor the hundreds of protesters who are camped out on the west side of City Hall, Evers said.
Roughly 35 officers stood around the barricades near the main entrance to City Hall last night, and others were scattered elsewhere. Ramsey said plainclothes civil-affairs officers were on the scene last night.
"We try to keep our presence as low-key as possible," Ramsey said while visiting officers last night.
Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the Police Department has used $237,000 in straight police time for the protest - which is separate from overtime and a part of their budget. McDonald said the city hoped to have a more complete protest estimate by the end of the week.
The overtime costs come at a tough financial time for the city. Last week, Finance Director Rob Dubow said that the city will seek roughly 2 percent budget cuts from department heads to combat a falloff in tax revenues. Police, fire and prisons are exempt from those cuts. McDonald said it was too soon to say if the costs of monitoring the protesters could trigger further cuts.
The protest against corporate greed is an extension of the New York City movement Occupy Wall Street, which has stretched into a fourth week with city costs of $1.9 million, mostly for police overtime, according to the Associated Press.
Last week Occupy Wall Street turned violent when protesters were reportedly maced and threatened with batons. More than two dozen people were arrested for disorderly conduct, and an NYPD officer suffered minor injuries.
Evers said yesterday there have been no arrests here. The protesters say they can police themselves.
Gillison and Ramsey disagreed, adding that police are necessary to ensure public safety.
"I understand the protesters' view, but respectfully disagree with any notion that police are not needed," Gillison said. "The police must be ready for any contingency that might arise, and there just is a cost associated with people massed in public places."
"Philly can be an example," Ramsey said. "We're trying to have minimal disruptions and at the same time let people air their grievances at the federal government."