Police officers were a common site on the UC Berkeley campus during so-called “Free Speech Week” in September 2017. Photo: Ted Friedman
Police officers were a common site on the UC Berkeley campus during so-called “Free Speech Week” in September 2017. Photo: Ted Friedman

The “Free Speech Week” that never happened and slated visits by several right-wing figures, forced UC Berkeley to shell out close to $4 million in security costs in just one month of 2017 – and that is just part of the price tag for the whole year.

After black-clad anarchists overwhelmed police at a Feb. 1, 2017, event for former Breitbart News tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos, UC Berkeley adjusted the way it prepared for the rallies that hit the campus in the ensuing months. That meant bringing in numerous police officers from other campuses and cities, paying overtime, paying for food and accommodations, and renting barriers to control crowds.

The price tag for events between Aug. 27 and Sept. 27 reached $3.9 million, according to figures released by the university. The Daily Californian was the first news outlet to report the news.

“We would have certainly preferred to expend these precious resources on our academic mission,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement. “We do not, however, regret having taken the steps that were clearly necessary to support our paired commitment to Free Speech and the safety of our campus community.”

UC Berkeley officials had previously reported that the school spent about $600,000 in security for a Sept. 17 appearance for Ben Shapiro. The final costs were $836,421, which included overtime for UC Berkeley police, according to the new figures.

The university spent $190,404 for a massive Aug. 27 rally. The university erected barriers all around the Crescent Lawn in anticipation of big crowds, but the demonstrators ended up mostly sticking to Berkeley streets. The price tag, though, was $190,404 for that rally. The barricades cost $42,050 alone, according to figures released by Cal.

The biggest costs came on Sept. 24-27. The Berkeley Patriot, a student newspaper with some of the same members as the Berkeley College Republicans who invited Yiannopoulos in February, invited him back again for what was originally billed as a week of events to highlight the university’s lack of commitment to free speech. Yiannopoulos promised all sorts of high-profile speakers, such as Steve Bannon, who was then President Trump’s advisor, and others. None of them materialized. The Berkeley Patriot eventually canceled the week.

Milo Yiannopoulos spoke to a small crowd at UC Berkeley on Sept. 24. Photo: Roger Jones

Yiannopoulos came to Berkeley on Sept. 24 anyway and delivered a fragmented 25-minute talk to a small crowd peppered with prayer, song and selfies. Regardless, UC Berkeley brought in a huge police presence, severely restricted entry onto Sproul Plaza by making people go through a single security checkpoint, and set up a perimeter around parts of the campus.

Two days later, Joey Gibson of the Patriot Prayer organization, and Kyle Chapman, a member of the Proud Boys and Alt-Knights who is facing felony charges for his actions at the March 4 rally, held a gathering on campus that attracted a crowd. There was also a counter-protest on campus. The combined cost for the so-called “Free Speech Week” came to $2,883,434, according to campus figures. Months ago, the university had put the cost of that week at $800,000.

The office of the UC President is paying half of the security costs.

These are not the only costs the community incurred. In April, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which assisted Berkeley and UC Berkeley at a rally held after the conservative pundit Ann Coulter canceled an appearance, said mutual aid costs had totaled as much as $500,000.

In addition, the city of Berkeley has estimated its police costs for the March 4, April 15, April 27 and Aug. 27 rallies were approximately $920,000.

If there is a silver lining in such a significant expense, it is the expertise gained by the police departments, according to UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennett.

“We learned a great deal in the course of these events — knowledge we have been sharing with other campuses across the state and the country,” she said. “While estimating costs for complex operations of the sort these events required is always difficult, I am confident that this experience will be of great benefit in the future, in terms of both operational efficacy and financial planning.”

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...