Kevin Valine

Police were terrific at Coulter protest but at what cost?

Demonstrators argue as Modesto police stand between the two sides Friday outside Modesto Centre Plaza, where Ann Coulter appeared at the Stanislaus County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner.
Demonstrators argue as Modesto police stand between the two sides Friday outside Modesto Centre Plaza, where Ann Coulter appeared at the Stanislaus County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

Modesto police officers were hard to miss Friday at the demonstration outside of Modesto Centre Plaza, where conservative commentator Ann Coulter spoke before about 600 people at the Stanislaus County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser.

Officers were shaking protesters’ hands and stopping to chat with people. It had the vibe of a backyard barbecue with the police playing the role of the good host. But during the roughly half-dozen times when a handful of people shouted and yelled at each other and called one another names, officers formed a line between the unruly protesters.

Officers let the protesters keep up their jawing for a while before an officer would step in and get each side to calm down. Officers were friendly when they needed to be and firm when warranted but not overbearing. Officials have said officers did not arrest anyone.

The police did a really good job of handling a crowd that at its biggest numbered roughly 100 people and that appeared evenly split between those who supported Coulter and President Donald Trump and those who did not.

But how much did it cost to keep the peace and did local Republicans get special treatment?

Police Chief Galen Carroll said Tuesday night that the cost for his department is being tallied and he should have an answer by the end of the week. The Stockton Police Department and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department assisted Modesto police. The deputies and Stockton officers were kept in reserve in case any trouble got out of hand, though Stockton officers in riot gear made a brief appearance before disappearing back into Centre Plaza.

A Stockton police spokesman said his department should have its cost in a couple of weeks and will bill Modesto. Stanislaus Sheriff Adam Christianson said in emails he will not bill Modesto and did not track his department’s cost.

Carroll said 30 to 40 Modesto officers were assigned to the demonstration, about 30 Stockton officers and 15 to 20 sheriff’s deputies. That’s a lot of law enforcement. Carroll has said he was not expecting trouble but had to plan for the worst.

“There is a potential (for demonstrations and protests that could turn violent),” he said last week before Coulter spoke and it was not clear what the fallout would be after the University of California at Berkeley canceled her speech there because of safety concerns. “But it’s hard to know what to expect. ... Our biggest concern is people from outside of the area coming here. We are looking for the best but preparing for the worst, because that’s what you have to do.”

Whatever the final cost, Carroll said he won’t send a bill to the local Republican Party. He said the officers who worked the demonstration were assigned to keep the city safe — not Coulter and the Republicans — at a time when political tensions are running high throughout the nation. The Police Department required the local Republican Party to hire private security at Modesto Centre Plaza.

So, are the Republicans getting a break?

After all, the Xclamation Festival — the annual one-day downtown musical festival — was required to hire off-duty officers to provide security at the event, as well as security guards. (The festival moved to Stockton last year, will take a break this year, and hopes to come back to Modesto in 2018.)

Carroll said no about the special treatment. He said the events are not the same. He said X-Fest is an edgy street party featuring music and alcohol. Coulter’s speech was inside Centre Plaza, and his officers were outside making sure protesters could exercise their First Amendment rights peacefully.

Carroll added that when it was available his department used grants to cover the cost of having more officers working patrol and in specialty units — such as gangs — during X-Fest because calls for service outside of the festival tended to spike.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316