Mayors, police chiefs trade Occupy strategy

Manhattan borough President Scott Stringer (center) is surrounded by City Council members and other local officials outside Foley Square during a news conference Tuesday supporting the Occupy Wall Street protest.

Bebeto Matthews

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Don't set a midnight deadline to evict Occupy Wall Street protesters -- it will only give a crowd of demonstrators time to form. Don't set ultimatums, because it will encourage violent protesters to break it. Fence off the parks after an eviction so protesters can't reoccupy it.

As concerns over safety and sanitation grew at the encampments over the last month, officials from nearly 40 cities turned to each other on conference calls, sharing what worked and what hasn't as they grappled with the leaderless movement.

While riot police sweeping through tent cities in Portland, Oakland and New York City over the last several days might suggest a coordinated effort, authorities and a group that organized the calls say they were a coincidence.

"It was completely spontaneous," said Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a national police group that organized calls on Oct. 11 and Nov. 4. Among the issues discussed were safety, traffic and the fierceness of demonstrations in each city.

"This was an attempt to get insight on what other departments were doing," he said.

From Atlanta to Washington, D.C., officials talked about how authorities could make camps safe for protesters and the community. Officials also learned about the kinds of problems they could expect from cities with larger and more established protest encampments.

In Portland, for example, protests were initially peaceful gatherings. Then the city's large number of homeless people moved in, transforming the camp into an open-air treatment center for drug addiction and mental illness.

On Oct. 11, just five days after protesters set up camp, police chiefs who had been dealing with the encampments for weeks warned that the homeless will be attracted to the food, shelter and medical care the camps offered.

There were more tidbits, including the midnight deadline.

Portland police had that in mind when they evicted protesters during the day from two downtown parks over the weekend. Officers came armed with pepper spray, bean-bag rounds and stun guns, but didn't need to deploy them.

One protester said he was injured when he fell and police dragged him from the scene.

Going in at midnight "would have been a confrontation that really wasn't necessary," police spokesman Pete Simpson said.

It was advice that came after the Oakland protest was shut down Oct. 25 in a confrontation that turned violent. One protester, Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, was badly injured.

In Oakland, where the protesters' encampment was peacefully removed on Monday, city officials took part in strategy sessions with other big cities dealing with similar demonstrations.

Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan said he participated in a call organized by Wexler's group and has talked with officials in the New York police department's civil disturbance unit and high-ranking police officials in San Francisco.

He said a theme was how the atmosphere at the camps had shifted from a haven for peaceful protest to one for criminal behavior.

"Some chiefs had been tolerant of the progressive movement, but that all changed when the criminal element showed up," Jordan said. "As police, you can't allow anything that foster criminal activities in any city."

Jordan said he and other officials began planning last week for officers to remove the camp outside City Hall for a second time after collecting enough evidence that gang activity and an open-air drug market had emerged at the park.

MASSACHUSETTS

Hip-hop mogul and political activist Russell Simmons told protesters at the Occupy Boston encampment Tuesday that it will take dramatic action to rid the American political system of corporate influence.

Simmons arrived in Boston after police dismantled the birthplace of the Occupy movement in New York earlier Tuesday.

'The Occupy movement is under attack,' Simmons said, adding that there is no contradiction in a multimillionaire such as himself supporting a movement demanding economic equity.

'I benefit off the tax code, but I'm ready to pay more taxes and ... I don't like having my secretary paying more in taxes than me.'

Also Tuesday, Occupy Boston demonstrators filed a lawsuit as a pre-emptive strike against any attempt to remove them from their protest site.

The lawsuit said the demonstrators are concerned about attempts in New York and other cities to shut down the protests.

The group is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the city or police from removing them from Dewey Square in Boston's financial district, where they have had an encampment since Sept. 30.

A hearing on the request is scheduled in Suffolk Superior Court today.

OHIO

Police in Ohio said they arrested seven Occupy protesters Tuesday for refusing to leave a bank.

Columbus police Sgt. Rich Weiner said the group took its protest and chanting into a Fifth Third branch and a U.S. Bank branch, where they were arrested.

He said they were asked to leave by security, and those who refused were arrested on misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges.

OREGON

A group of key Occupy Portland demonstrators say they're breaking off ties with the city and police amid allegations by demonstrators that police used excessive force when they broke up a downtown camp that protesters had held for five weeks.

A protester was hospitalized after officers dragged him away, and he now says officers beat and 'brutalized' him.

VIRGINIA

Members of Occupy Richmond said they will take up a newspaper publisher's offer to encamp on his property next door to the mayor's residence.

The protesters said they will accept the offer from Raymond Boone, editor and founder of the Richmond Free Press.

WASHINGTON

The Occupy movement has reached one of Washington state's most remote towns — the fictional home of the characters in the vampire teen series 'Twilight.'

The Peninsula Daily News reported that 17 people held an Occupy Forks protest on Saturday, rallying outside a Bank of America branch, the only corporate presence the protesters could find in the town.

Associated Press