The cost of free speech: campus spending on protest management totals $894,000 in 2016-17

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The UC Berkeley campus typically allocates about $200,000 each year to manage protests, but in fiscal year 2016-2017, it spent almost $900,000 responding to protests, as first reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In recent months, UC Berkeley has been the setting for costly clashes over free speech. On February 1, Milo Yiannopoulos’ canceled speech spurred violence from protestors on Sproul Plaza. Additionally, when Ann Coulter was invited by Berkeley College Republicans and BridgeUSA to speak to campus April 27 — but later chose not to speak — UCPD anticipated similar threats, according to UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich.

“For the Coulter event, there was quite a bit of pre-intelligence from opposing groups stating their intentions to engage in violence in our community, so we took measures to maintain campus safety,” Reich said in an email. “UCPD was not willing to allow a repeat of the unprecedented violence that occurred around the Milo Yiannopoulos event, if it could be deterred or prevented altogether.”

The $894,000 spent by UCPD were related to protest and demonstration response and management, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said. Costs were incurred where UCPD determined there was a need for additional security measures — before, during and after on-campus events.

The Berkeley Police Department also incurred additional costs while assisting in and preparing for any possible threats related to campus protests.

Protest-associated costs in preparation for anticipated April 27 demonstrations, according to BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel, totaled $122,000 with $115,000 allocated toward staff overtime fees, while the difference went toward renting vehicles and purchasing other “provisions.”

According to Manu Meel, an executive board member of BridgeUSA at Berkeley — a nonpartisan organization that helped plan the intended Ann Coulter address — security was maximized for the intended April 27 address because there was a “huge risk of violence.”

Meel said the solution lies in promoting productive dialogue and peaceful protests.

“The police are not necessarily at fault, nor are the students, but it’s external organizations coming to campus. Ensuring that there is a strong crackdown on those external forces such as Antifa will solve a lot of the issues regarding police funding, budgeting and the issues … making our campus almost a warzone,” Meel said.

Meel added that BridgeUSA at Berkeley will “draw a strong line” between inviting someone “who is a commentator like Ann Coulter” and a speaker who can “add to the conversation in a productive manner.” Meel said the group plans on inviting individuals from all sides of the political spectrum who they believe have contributed meaningfully to a specific policy proposal or have substantive educational background regarding an issue.

Cal Berkeley Democrats President Caiden Nason said he believes that overspending resulted partially because of poor planning by the Berkeley College Republicans, and said inviting “controversial” speakers requires earlier collaboration with the campus.

“Cal Dems believes that … organizations can bring whoever they want to campus,” Nason said in an email. “However, organizations need to do so in a professional manner, and work with University administration to ensure that all events will be as safe as possible.”

Contact Christine Giuliano at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinegiul.