Rep. Darrell Issa (via Wikimedia)

The police union in Washington, DC, claims crime in the District has gone up because officers that would normally be on patrol are monitoring the Occupy DC protests. The chairman of DC’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Kristopher Baumann, wrote a letter to DC Mayor Vincent Gray urging him to apologize for using misinformation in statements on the use of police resources for the ongoing protests.

Most significantly, the letter asserts that statistics show there has been a seventeen percent increase in violent crime and a fourteen percent increase in crime as a result of neighborhood officers being used to patrol Occupy DC. CC’ed on the letter are the following: Darrell Issa, Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Jack Evans, a member of the Council of the District of Columbia, Barbara Lang, president of the DC Chamber of Commerce, Barbara Lang, and Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

The letter condemns Gray for his failure to “warn District residents about a double digit spike in violent crime.” It states, “The public has a right to know when crime is increasing and public awareness can facilitate crime prevention.”

Baumann’s letter goes into extensive detail on the “use of neighborhood police officers at Occupy DC” alleging that Gray has a history of supporting measures that were not good for police:

Your political motive for not wanting to acknowledge growing problems with crime is obvious. As Chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia you were responsible for legislating three budgets that cut the number of police officer positions by 400. As studies have demonstrated (here in DC in fact), less police officers means more crime. (See Jonathon Klick and Alexander Tabarrok, Using Terror Alert Levels to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime, The Journal of Law and Economics, volume 48, April, 2005.) The increase in crime overall and violent crime during the Occupy DC protest is but one of the negative results of the Department having 400 fewer police officers and officers being taken out of the neighborhoods in order to monitor Occupy DC.

Gray previously claimed DC Metropolitan Police have a Special Operations Division to handle the protests and so no neighborhood has been neglected as a result of the protests. The letter calls this misleading:

Not only are neighborhood patrol officers being utilized for active protests, but also, officers are being taken out of the neighborhoods on a daily basis to passively monitor the Occupy DC areas because Special Operations Division (SOD) does not have enough police officers to handle that responsibility.

The letter includes crime statistics that appear to demonstrate an increase in crime. It is possible that there is a correlation going on here and the patrolling of Occupy DC is not necessarily the cause of the increases in crime. The proof that monitoring the protests caused the increases rests on the notion that more police equals less crime. The statistics do not pretend to eliminate possible other factors so there is no doubt the use of neighborhood officers is why crime appears to have gone up.

The letter does not call on Gray to bring the protests to an end immediately. However, Issa has been investigating why the National Park Service has allowed the camp to remain at McPherson Square. Leaders affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade have a vested interest in seeing the Occupy movement ended. That they are cc’ed on this letter is enough to arouse suspicion.

The FOP is quite clearly creating a political liability for Gray by challenging him on this. His approval rating, as of December 23, was already at about 33 percent and his disapproval rating was spiking. Rep. Issa, the Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade would be directly or indirectly involved because police pressure could be what ultimately leads Gray to decide to more forcefully work for Occupy DC’s eviction.

If Gray publicly announced DC police could not monitor the camp any longer because of a spike in crime, that would create a situation for Park Police. They would have to be in charge of patrolling the camp every hour of the day. It would force the National Park Service to decide whether to continue to allow the camp to stay or not because now the DC police would no longer be providing security.

Assuming this is all a ploy to end Occupy DC, it is interesting because the attempt to undermine Occupy DC is not built on how much it costs to maintain “security.” It is built on the idea that officers should not have to patrol the camp when there is actual crime going on that needs to be policed and prevented, something the police chief in Albany, New York, initially agreed with when confronted with arresting peaceful Occupy Albany protesters. So, there should be no problem with coming to an agreement that resources should not be stretched thin to patrol Occupy DC because most protesters, who have seen police sometimes outnumber protesters two-to-one at demonstrations, would agree.

DC residents should ask the city and police what kind of crime and safety problems have actually arisen since the group began camping. DC residents should ask if there should be as many police on patrol as there typically are. And, DC residents should ask if the city can cut back on the number of officers so officers can get back to patrolling neighborhoods where their presence is actually needed.

Crime in the city should not be a valid excuse to end an expressive and symbolic peaceable assembly. The police should not have to be there for Occupy DC to continue. They do not need trained officers to stand guard as armed babysitters. The police should, at most, need to be there every couple of hours to check on security in and around the park. And if this is really about law and order and not protecting the financial and political order, there shouldn’t be a problem with simply having less officers on the Occupy DC beat.