The costs of policing recent protests in San Luis Obispo

Jul 8, 2020

Over the span of less than a month, the city of San Luis Obispo spent over a quarter million dollars to police recent demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The San Luis Obispo Police Department says it is evaluating what to do differently in covering future protests.

Data shows that in covering the protests between May 31 and June 19, SLO PD rang up a bill of more than $250,000 for law enforcement.

The bulk of the cost is overtime hours for police, as well as adding officers from the Sheriff’s Office, Highway Patrol and other nearby city police departments. The city spent $177,000 on officer overtime hours alone.

SLO PD also spent about $2,000 on supplying food for officers, and around $1,000 on plywood, which deputy city manager Greg Hermann said was used to board up windows at city facilities and businesses in the case of vandalism.

Now, city officials and SLOPD are working together to identify what worked and what didn’t.

“This has been such a challenging time for communities across this country and across this world,” said San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon, “Trust between law enforcement agencies and people they protect and serve is essential to our democracy.”

Harmon is calling on the police department to gather testimony from protestors to get their viewpoints, and to have more community engagement to see what policing could look like in the future.

“It is not just policing that has to work on it,” said SLO Police Chief Deanna Cantrell. “The community has to actively engage with local law enforcement by participating with us, by taking the seat at the table.”

Cantrell addressed her response to the protests at a city council meeting in mid-June. While the protests remained peaceful, Cantrell authorized the use of tear gas and pepper spray on a crowd during the June 1 demonstration, saying police were acting within their training when some protestors allegedly threw rocks and bottles at officers, and would not disperse. But, to date, there is no publicly-released video evidence to support those grounds..

“De-escalation requires a level of cooperation,” Cantrell said. “ We can try and try to de-escalate something, but it does require cooperation.”

However, Cantrell leaves open the idea that policy and training could change in response to the recent protests.

SLOPD is putting together a “Post Action” report, by compiling police accounts and reviewing body-worn video to help the department reflect on its handling of the protests.

“If there were things that did not go well, if there are lessons to be learned, it will have all of that,” Cantrell said. “I think it will be enlightening as to how we can all do better.”

Cantrell said she anticipates the report to be completed in the next month, and will work with city officials to decide what changes could be made.