Sunday, September 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Here's one side effect of the city re-directing services to Occupy Philly

We know how much the city is spending on Occupy Philly, but what about the protest's cost in re-directed services? For the first week and a half that Occupy Philly held court in City Hall, the Police Department's entire Neighborhood Services Unit was detailed to the protest to watch over its participants. That means for that week and a half, the roughly 30-officer unit, whose responsibilities include responding to abandoned vehicle complaints, recovering stolen cars and investigating reports of short dumping and graffiti, didn't exist in the rest of the city.

Here's one side effect of the city re-directing services to Occupy Philly

A truck in a creek, which the NSU eventually removed.
A truck in a creek, which the NSU eventually removed.

We know how much the city is spending on Occupy Philly, but what about the protest's cost in re-directed services? For the first week and a half that Occupy Philly held court in City Hall, the Police Department's entire Neighborhood Services Unit was detailed to the protest to watch over its participants. That means for that week and a half, the roughly 30-officer unit, whose responsibilities include responding to abandoned vehicle complaints, recovering stolen cars and investigating reports of short dumping and graffiti, didn't exist in the rest of the city.

NSU's Sgt. Frank Spires said that all 3-1-1 complaints, as well as direct calls to the unit, were shelved until the detail was over.

"It's a shame," Spires said. "We provide a service to the neighborhood."

As of Friday, NSU's detail to the protest was cut in half. Friday was a busy day, Spires said, as his officers tackled the backlog of calls. NSU receives about 160 3-1-1 complaints a week, on top of the roughly 30 complaints that come from direct calls to the unit. The unit recovers about 60 stolen vehicles a week, as well as filing the paperwork for people to reclaim the vehicles.

Part of the reason NSU being detailed can have such an effect on the city is that it's the only unit authorized to do abandoned vehicle paperwork (Spires says this is so the towing process is "ethically sound"). This means that other cops can't get a vehicle towed. They have to call NSU.

For example, earlier this summer, Help Desk did a ride-along with Spires and watched as he responded to a call from two 22nd District cops. A car had been abandoned at a turning lane, blocking traffic right in the middle of 33rd and Girard. Spires got the car towed right then and there. If there was a situation like that during the Occupy Philly detail, it would have been a lot harder for police to respond.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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