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Rising Police Costs May Sink Stonewall Pride

The first Stonewall was a riot. The police costs for this year’s event are enough to cause one, too. The combined bill for police services and equipment has risen from about $50k to a shocking $92k this year. While WMEG, the non-profit behind Stonewall Pride, was told to expect increased costs this year, neither they nor I expected learn the bill increased by over 80% this past week.

Each year, Wilton Manors Police Chief Blocker must determine what resources are necessary to protect attendees of any event occurring in the city.  He does this in coordination with Broward County.  There are three factors that have caused costs to rise over 80% this year. Unfortunately, the determined required number of officers, hours, and equipment continues to grow year after year and this year is no exception.  In addition, the cost per hour of a police officer has gone up this year and Broward County is no longer providing approximately $25k in resources at no cost to Stonewall as they have in the past.

It should be stated that the City of Wilton Manors does not benefit from the cost of police services rising year after year.  That is because the officers working the event are not paid directly by the City of Wilton Manors, but instead a regional agency that coordinates and manages qualified officers who can elect to work events like Stonewall Pride. The officers you see working the event are almost always working overtime, outside of their traditional shift work, and many are not from Wilton Manors.   Their participation is voluntary, and with staff shortages and COVID related complications, finding enough available officers to cover the event is a challenge itself. We are grateful for their willingness to serve and protect us at Stonewall Pride. 

To be clear, the safety of every visitor and resident is and must be priority number one when it comes to any event or activity occurring in the city.  You can’t put a price on the safety of our residents or visitors.  You can, however, put a price tag to the value of Stonewall Pride.  In a study from 2017, independent consultants determined the economic impact of the event to be $4,157,000.  Adjusted for inflation and the growth of the event, an argument could easily be made that the economic impact is well over $6 million today.

A Path Forward For Stonewall 

Frankly, there are very few options that will keep Stonewall Pride viable in the City of Wilton Manors for years to come.  One option, which will almost certainly need to happen, is raising the entry donation from $5 to $10. Having spoken with Mr. Sterling, who leads WMEG, I know that this isn’t the ideal option.  It’s his goal to have the event be accessible to as many people as possible, and that means making it affordable.  Unfortunately, some visitors will mistake this for greed, not understanding that security costs have nearly doubled this year.

A second option is for WMEG to file a lawsuit arguing that the police charges are a violation of their first amendment rights. While Jeff Sterling has made it very clear he wants to be a good partner, not a plaintiff, this may regrettably be his only recourse if no other viable option exists.    Stonewall Pride, much like the original Stonewall Riot, is a free speech gathering designed to protest the anti-gay legislation like “Don’t Say Gay.”  The First Amendment limits the kinds of permit fees and other financial burdens that government can impose on protesters.  While I am certainly not a lawyer, Pritchard v. Mackie seems to affirm that there is a needed exception for groups that cannot afford the cost of necessary protection.  Lastly, the government can NOT charge protesters more when additional police are needed to protect them – i.e. requiring additional protection because the event is a “high risk” event in a post-PULSE world.  Any lawsuit would be long, with an unclear outcome, and cause great damage between the relationships of all involved.

A Political Solution May Be Necessary

I want to affirm my respect for Chief Blocker and his team.  They are well qualified, competent professionals with a demonstrated commitment to putting public safety first.  That being said, each year their security proposal comes at an ever-increasing cost without regard to budget constraints.

Our U.S. Military leadership continues to argue for more money to be spent on defenses, but are ultimately limited by the budget provided to them.   Chief Blocker continues to push for new equipment and additional staff that would better protect our community, while demonstrating fiscal responsibility and managing to a budget provided to him by the Commission.  While every form of protection we receive from the government is managed to a budget, the costs for protecting an event have no similar requirement.

There are two political solutions that could help ensure the financial viability of events like Stonewall Pride and Wicked Manors in the future:

  1. The City Commission begins to exercise some oversight and provide guidelines for public safety resource requirements for special events. This is inarguably a challenging process, as we are public servants not police professionals.  We make difficult decisions as it relates to the police department, and there may be difficult decision we need to learn to make around public safety requirements for special events.  This would provide a check and balance, preventing costs from skyrocketing further out of control.
  2. The City Commission could elect to increase the financial support it provides to strategic events like Stonewall Pride and Wicked Manors. Knowing that Stonewall Pride in 2017 generated over $4 million in economic impact, there is case to be made for our city investing more in our flagship events produced by good partners.   This events, beyond just their economic impact, are often catalysts for visitors to become residents.  They attract like-minded people to become residents in our community.

The road ahead for Stonewall Pride may appear treacherous, but I am confident we will come together as a community to find a solution.  In these difficult times, when Women’s rights and LGBTQ rights are facing unparalleled attacks, Pride events are as important as ever.  If you have an idea or comment on how to address the issue, please email me at ccaputo@wiltonmanors.com or text me at 954.557.2801.

Chris Caputo, Wilton Manors City Commissioner

Stonewall Pride’s Official Statement

Stonewall Pride, Inc is a firm believer that our Police Department does not act out of malice or ill intent.  Our goal and their goal is the same: to provide for the safest environment possible so all who come here can safely enjoy themselves without fear.   Our police department has some of the finest officers I have ever worked with.   We agree on most all of the points on our joint effort to secure the festival except for the top cap of police costs.  Our chief puts security in front of most all concerns and this results in a more expansive safety plan than we can afford or what our festival peers pay around the state.  He believes that safety trumps all including our argument that there is a limit to safety costs.  Every government entity chooses its level of safety by setting budgets for their Police, or in the terms of the US, our military.  At the end of the day, our politicians draft budgets and policies that set the upper tier of what our society is willing to accept in terms of a police safety net.

Since 2018, we have repeatedly and aggressively requested of the City Management and the Wilton Manors Commission, a firm policy that reigns in what we believe to be outsized safety costs.  Our City sets the Police Department budget every year and they work within what can be afforded.  The City needs to draft a policy that applies a common sense level of safety that is reasonable and affordable, and to apply that policy across all events and similar permits.  An event may be as large as Stonewall or Wicked Manors or a smaller gathering around a temporary stage and/or temporary outside bar at one of the establishments in the City.  This policy must have features that reduce arbitrary decisions as much as possible.   This is needed so we are fair to all in our City and also to protect our tax payers in the event a group complains of mistreatment. We need to be able to prove a documented, neutral, check the box policy that shows equal application to all under the law.

Stonewall Pride Inc cannot afford, nor is willing, to go from around $40K to $90K for police officers.  This is in addition to a large contingent of nearly two hundred private security, medical carts, ambulance, physical safety structures, and fire watch which we provide, adding an additional $100k to the costs to execute the festival.  Compared to larger events that are two days, such as Miami Pride, we exceed their costs of police detail and we are double what our sister event Pride Ft Lauderdale pays for two days.

Our festival on Wilton Drive is only a portion of this total event.   The event encompasses private property along the drive that pull permits and have their own celebrations with stages, outdoor activities and outdoor bars that attract thousands, and many times half the festival attendees are on private property events and not within our festival proper of Wilton Drive.  All joined together, this combination makes for a fun enjoyable environment not experienced in many cities.   We have objected for several years to the determination of policing at the private property events not being the same as the determination for the festival event on Wilton Drive even if private property attendance equals or exceeds the main festival grounds of Wilton Drive.  This adds to our argument that determination of policing levels are not objective, equal or fair.

Though we feel actions are not malicious in nature, we do find the Police Department’s costs to be unfair, onerous and prohibitive to the execution of the expression of LGBTQ+ rights through the festival and parade.  We once again ask our City Commission to apply common sense limits that attract people and activities to our City and formalize that in a fair, objective policy that allows us to be on the same competitive terms with our neighboring cities.


Jeffrey Sterling
Chief Executive Officer
Stonewall Pride Inc
Wilton Manors Entertainment Group Inc

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