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US Police Response to Protests Varies from City to City

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Police in several cities have cracked down on Occupy Wall Street protests but continue to stand on the sidelines in other municipalities, including New York City, where the movement began.

Last week, police in riot gear moved against demonstrators in several cities. Demonstrators in Portland, Oregon did not resist authorities.

But in Oakland, California, an Iraq War veteran suffered a skull fracture, apparently from a  tear gas canister.  Police chief Howard Jordan acknowledged his force fired the canisters, along with beanbags and rubber bullets.

"They had already thrown bottles at us," Jordan says. "They were going back into a garbage can to retrieve more bottles, and by policy we are allowed to use less lethal rounds to neutralize that person and take him into custody."

In Nashville, Tennessee, state authorities arrested demonstrators after hastily instituting new protest rules.  They included a curfew and permit requirements, which suddenly made the three-week long protest illegal.  Local judge Tom Nelson did not like the abrupt change.  He ordered protesters released.

“When the state issued its memorandum today, imposing a curfew and changing the rules right in the middle of a protest - they can do that - but they have to give them adequate opportunity to comply with those rules," Nelson said.

The result in Tennessee highlights the lack of a common approach to policing the Occupy protests across the nation.  

The nation’s 18,000 municipal police departments are controlled by city or county officials, and they react in part based on their own feelings, and on those of local citizens.  

Toledo, Ohio, Mayor Mike Bell says he won’t allow the local protest to go on indefinitely, saying “They are going to have to vacate the premises at some point in time.”

In Santa Rosa California, city manager Kathleen Millison is cooperating with demonstrators.

“It was best to avoid a so-called showdown. That was not in our interests or their interests," Millison said.

Maria Haberfeld, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, says how a mayor uses the police depends on perceptions of public safety, concern about police overtime pay and popular pressure.  She notes that the training and emotions of individual police officers also have a bearing.

“It might be that the police officers actually do identify with the causes of the individuals who are on the other side, but being part of the organization, they cannot allow their private thoughts to influence their decision-making process, so there might be quite a lot of frustration on this end," she said.

Few police officers look forward to breaking up a protest, but she adds that officers can get frustrated with being assigned for weeks on end to maintain order at a protest.

After seven weeks, the original Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York City say they plan to stay for months.

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