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Romero proposes Occupy Tucson ticket moratorium

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Romero proposes Occupy Tucson ticket moratorium

  • Romero celebrates her electoral victory last Tuesday.
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comRomero celebrates her electoral victory last Tuesday.

Saying it would save money and lift a burden on city police and courts, Councilwoman Regina Romero is calling for a moratorium on further ticketing of Occupy Tucson protesters

Romero will ask the council to support a moratorium on further arrests of demonstrators, and that the city lift permit fees and the curfew at downtown's Veinte de Agosto Park, the West Side Democrat said in a a statement issued Monday afternoon.

"I am calling for a moratorium on issuing citations because the ongoing and indefinite burden of TPD and City Court expenses on taxpayers to police this peaceful protest is not in the best interest of the City of Tucson.," she said.

"Since the genesis of this local movement, we have been spending thousands of dollars to cite and release Occupy Tucson protestors. Our TPD overtime expenses since the demonstration began have topped $83,000, and collective costs including regular time are nearing the $100,000 mark," Romero said. "This does not consider the court costs that taxpayers will come to bear in order to bring the 500 plus citations to trial in City courts, nor the potential booking expenses for physical arrests should the imposition of park curfews come to such extremes."

Tucson police cited 41 Occupy Tucson protesters for refusing to leave Veinte de Agosto Park at night over the long Veterans Day weekend, a department spokeswoman said.

There have been over 570 arrests since the protest began Oct. 15, police records show. Monday, a city magistrate said he would order protesters with three or more arrests to not return to the park.

Romero said she will also propose that the city move some of its funds from national banks—one of the major foci of the nationwide Occupy protests—to local credit unions.

At Tuesday's afternoon study session, Romero will call on the City Council to order that:

  • Mayor and Council request a moratorium on ticketing protestors in Veinte de Agosto Park.
  • City of Tucson Parks and Recreation staff waive permitting fees and curfews for Occupy Tucson protestors at Veinte de Agosto Park.
  • Occupy Tucson participants respect any and all traditional and permitted events that are taking place in City of Tucson parks.
  • City staff explore investing certain public funds into local credit unions, and moving away from larger financial institutions where feasible.

Last month, after a lengthy discussion in executive session, the council declined to waive the parks permitting rules or closing times.

City Attorney Mike Rankin told council members Oct. 25 that content-neutral restrictions on the time and place citizens may assemble are constitutional. Waiving the rules for Occupy protesters would open the city to claims by other groups, he said.

"I understand the frustrations of Occupy Wall Street protesters everywhere on a deeply personal level.  The excesses of our financial institutions have been the driving force behind this economic recession," Romero said.

"The steps I have described here allows the community an opportunity and a space to make their voices heard, and emphasizes what we can do to make substantive changes in our own backyard," she said.

Occupy Tucson protesters have been allowed to remain in the parks overnight after being cited for the misdemeanor offense of being in a park after closing time. Each night, police allow those who wish to leave to do so before making arrests and writing tickets.

The protesters face a maximum $1,000 fine for violating the park closing rules, a misdemeanor, but many of those arrested for trespassing at unrelated Tucson demonstrations in the past have seen their charges dismissed.

Magistrate Anthony Riojas ruled Monday that he will order demonstrators with three or more citations to not return to the park after closing time. Riojas said he will begin reviewing cases for multiple tickets beginning Friday. Lawyers for the protesters said they would appeal the move.

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