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Event planners may have to pay for police in Wauwatosa

Overtime costs could be recouped

March 14, 2012

The Wauwatosa Police Department has spent more than $9,000 on overtime to oversee politically motivated gatherings in a year's time.

Police presence and crowd control were provided for events that supported Gov. Scott Walker, as well as those that pushed for his recall. In each case, no reimbursement was provided.

The Community Development Committee on Tuesday recommended changing an ordinance so the city can recoup similar costs in the future. The issue will go to the entire Common Council for a vote at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

The city requires organizers of parades, charity runs and other activities that take place on roadways to apply for a permit from the Police Department. Police Chief Barry Weber then determines staffing levels and overtime costs based on the area that will need patrolling and projected attendance.

The proposed changes would expand the rules to special events on public and private property.

The chief could deny the permit if an organization isn't willing to cover the costs, City Attorney Alan Kesner said.

Resident Nick Schweitzer said he is concerned the chief would have "too much discretion to arbitrarily say 'yes' or 'no' " to an applicant wanting to hold a special event. He also argued the cost shouldn't impede people's right to gather and exercise free speech.

"This is one of the basic tenants of our democracy," he said.

The permit discussion started after Weber figured out that providing a police presence for a rally in support of Walker at Hart Park came with a $3,100 price tag for his department.

"I really don't care about the politics one way or another," Weber said. "I care about the event."

An information request by Wauwatosa NOW resulted in a more thorough list of politically related gatherings and how much they cost the city.

It's not the type of event but rather the number of city resources used that's being called into question, Kesner said. A permit would have allowed the police to obtain payment to cover those resources.

If an applicant were turned down, there would be an appeal process.

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