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DIGGING DEEPER: Protest will cost Tucson taxpayers a pretty penny

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TUCSON (KVOA) - George Floyd's death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer ignited the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Protests started up across the country, including in Tucson, where people took to the streets to participate in peaceful protests and not-so-peaceful ones. Both cost taxpayers a pretty penny.

In late May and early June, Downtown Tucson streets were filled with peaceful demonstrators and violent rioters. The city dispatched Tucson Police Department officers to keep both businesses and demonstrators safe, but it came with a hefty price tag.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators obtained a document that broke down just how many taxpayer dollars were spent paying TPD employees who clocked overtime hours during the George Floyd-related demonstrations on May 29 and May 30. The city spent a total amount of $117,194 worth of taxpayers' dollars paying TPD employees who worked overtime during both nights' demonstrations.

On May 30 alone, more than $100,000 was spent. That amount of cash could practically pay the yearly salaries of two rookie TPD officers.

Nearly $250,000 were paid out to TPD employees between May 29 and June 4. It was during a time when Gov. Doug Ducey enacted a state-wide curfew because tensions were so high among demonstrators and law enforcement.

“Not a good use of our money," Shannon Riggs, Downtown Tucson business owner said.

Riggs said the protesters were peaceful and if law enforcement would have waited until violence broke out to show up, tensions would not have been so high.

“It’s an assumption that things are going to go wrong when you put that many police on the street and it makes people uncomfortable," Riggs said.

However, as News 4 Tucson originally reported on May 29, some protesters were not so peaceful. They smashed in business' windows, set dumpsters on fire and vandalized property.

Riggs said her shop was not damaged, but if it was, she would have called the police.

“But that doesn’t mean that the police needed to be there before anything happened," Riggs said.

On May 30, 239 TPD employees worked overtime during the demonstrations. That number compares to just 65 employees who worked the day before when demonstrations first began.

“I mean it’s an extremely delicate situation, so I cannot focus on the number you know money-wise even though I’m a business owner," Maria Mazon, Downtown Tucson business owner said.

But she said she also understands concerns on both sides. She said she does not want law enforcement employees to stop peaceful demonstrators, but she does want them to prevent and respond to crimes in general.

Tucson City Council member, Steve Kozachik said the city has an obligation to protect downtown businesses during times of potential violence.

“Do the marching, do the protesting but when you cross the line and start throwing bricks through windows and things like that understand small local business is not the enemy," Kozachik said.

He said TPD reaches out to organizers before any demonstration ahead of time to try and mitigate any potential violence or costs.

“It costs us money; it comes out of our general fund. That’s unfortunate," Kozachik said. "We certainly do have better ways to spend those dollars but we just can’t turn downtown and fourth avenue into a free-for-all.” 

The city has yet to make public how much monetary damage rioters caused to city property during the demonstrations.

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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