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Occupy Tucson arrests up after police change tactics

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Occupy Tucson arrests up after police change tactics

Tucson Police arrested 34 Occupy Tucson demonstrators Tuesday night after changing their enforcement tactics to cite everyone remaining at Veinte de Agosto Park after dark, instead of allowing protesters to leave before issuing tickets to those who refuse to go.

Police told demonstrators earlier Tuesday that anyone remaining in the park after it's closing at dusk would be arrested, a TPD spokesman said.

Occupy Tucson protesters had 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 allowed those who wish to leave to do so before making arrests and writing tickets.

"Over the course of time, members of the movement have adopted a tactic of leaving the park while officers are conducting enforcement, waiting from an adjacent sidewalk, then returning to the park to camp as soon as the officers have left the area," TPD's Sgt. Matt Ronstadt said in a press release.

"In the past two weeks, a significant number of demonstrators have employed this tactic, leaving a token group of demonstrators in the park to be arrested, while the majority simply returned to the park with impunity after officers completed the deployment," Ronstadt said.

Officers began citing protesters at about 12:30 a.m. overnight, he said.

'The demonstrators have shown that they will return to the park upon our exit, and therefore avoid any consequence for their violation of the ordinance.' — Chief Villaseñor

Although there have been over 630 arrests since the protest began Oct. 15, the number of protesters cited had fallen dramatically after Occupy Tucson was evicted from nearby Armory Park nearly three weeks ago.

Including three protesters cited on Monday night, a dozen demonstrators were ticketed at Occupy Tucson over the weekend, police said.

Friday night, two protesters were ticketed for for remaining in a downtown park after closing time overnight, a department spokeswoman said.

Saturday night, four were cited, with three given tickets on both Sunday and Monday nights for refusing to leave Veinte de Agosto Park, said TPD spokeswoman Sgt. Maria Hawke.

The protesters face a maximum $1,000 fine for violating the park closing rules, a misdemeanor. While many of those arrested for trespassing at unrelated Tucson demonstrations in the past have seen their charges dismissed, the city has moved ahead with prosecuting those ticketed at Occupy Tucson.

The City Council deadlocked last Tuesday on a proposal to create a free speech zone in the park, allowing demonstrators to remain overnight without permits.

Villaseñor memo

TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor outlined the enforcement change in a memo sent to the City Council and city manager Tuesday:

I wanted to inform you that I intend to implement a slight modification to our enforcement actions in regard to Occupy Tucson. As we indicated when we initially started our enforcement actions, we felt we were able to exercise discretion in allowing Occupy Protestors to remain in the park after hours as long as we issued them citations for the offense, in essence arresting them for the violation. We gave people the option of leaving the park to avoid the citation, and many of the participants chose to do this. We were also asked if people could leave the park and stand on the sidewalk in solidarity for those receiving citations, and we allowed this to occur with the understanding that those individuals would not return to the park after we left. 

Over time, this practice of leaving the park and standing on the sidewalk has transformed into a tactic to avoid the citation, but still remain in the park by returning to the tents once the officers finish their enforcement action and leave the park. My intent is to advise the protestors that we will no longer allow this method of avoiding the citations for remaining in the park after hours. The change in operations for us will consist of citing all people who are in the park after hours when we arrive at the park. People will no longer be allowed to remove themselves to the sidewalk or agree to leave the park to avoid being cited. The demonstrators have shown that they will return to the park upon our exit, and therefore avoid any consequence for their violation of the ordinance. We will continue to do this in a non-confrontational manner and we will advise the Occupy Protest participants of the change in operations prior to enforcement. My intent is to initiate this change effective on November 22, 2011.

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