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Occupy Wall Street Works With Cops to Keep Order in Zuccotti Park

By Julie Shapiro | October 12, 2011 6:56am | Updated on October 12, 2011 6:58am

LOWER MANHATTAN — Nearly a month after Occupy Wall Street took over Zuccotti Park, protesters say their relationship with the NYPD remains a complicated one.

On one hand, protesters and cops have clashed during well-publicized incidents ranging from demonstrators being pepper sprayed to mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge.

On the other, organizers have reached out to the NYPD to help keep control of the hordes of protesters.

"It's a very delicate balance," said Brendan Burke, 41, a member of Occupy Wall Street's security team. "It's a line [between protesters and police], but you've got to keep the line perforated to ease the tension."

Burke, a punk rock musician and truck driver from Brooklyn, said he has worked with police to help EMTs with stretchers access Zuccotti Park when protesters have been seriously ill, and he would not hesitate to contact the police in the case of a sexual assault.

That's what happened on Monday, when the protesters got fed up with 27-year-old Dave Park, who frequently showed up drunk to Zuccotti Park and allegedly groped several women, protesters said.

After repeated incidents and failed intervention attempts by Occupy Wall Street's security team, the protesters finally went to the NYPD for help in removing Park, according to Paul Isaac, a member of the security team.

To avoid a potential conflict between protesters and police in the park, the OWS security team brought Park to the fringes of the plaza, where they handed him over to authorities.

"We got law enforcement to cooperate with us and remove him," Isaac, 42, a Brooklyn construction worker and FDNY auxiliary firefighter, said Tuesday from his post guarding Occupy Wall Street's media center.

"Unfortunately there's not real big trust for law enforcement here, so it [can be] hard to get cooperation," Isaac continued. "We have to respect the law. Without respect for the law, it's chaos."

Police sources said Park will likely not be charged with sexual assault because the victim declined to file a criminal complaint. The arrest was first reported by the New York Post. Police are fingerprinting Park to determine whether he lied about his last name, sources said.

At a recent meeting of Occupy Wall Street's nonviolent conflict de-escalation group, those present discouraged protesters from going to police unless absolutely necessary.

"We'll get a lot more respect if we're able to handle it ourselves and not run to Mom and Dad and tattle," said Chilligan, 19, a Brooklyn resident who repairs computers for a living and goes by one name only.

Chilligan said he has been working with Occupy Wall Street's nonviolent conflict de-escalation group to talk to people who are causing problems — most commonly those who get drunk or steal clothing or electronics — to convince them that they ought to peacefully join the protest rather than disrupt it.

As a second resort, Chilligan and others said they also publicly draw attention to the people who are breaking Occupy Wall Street's ground rules, to use the force of public opinion to change people's behavior.

"If we work together, we don't need to catch and beat these people who are stealing from us," Chilligan said. "We're all about fixing problems here, not burning down problems."

Signs posted around Zuccotti Park inform protesters of the no-drugs-or-alcohol policy and also ask that they maintain the community space by recycling and not trampling on flower beds.

While many protesters said there was less crime and rule-breaking in Zuccotti Park than they would have expected, the park is still a public space like any other in New York, and people need to watch their belongings, members of the security team said.

Isaac, one of the team's members, said he has seen many protesters leave their phones or other personal items unattended and then are surprised when they disappear.

"There are bad apples in any environment," Isaac said. "You can't just leave your stuff lying around. You have to be responsible."

Murray Weiss contributed reporting.