What can you do to protect your business during a protest?

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The WBA and its board members wish to thank the representatives from the Bellingham Police Department who attended the meeting: neighborhood officers Dante Alexander and Eric Osterkamp, Patrol Lieutenants Don Almer and Jason Monson and Deputy Police Chief Dave Doll. We appreciate the sacrifices our law enforcement agencies make to keep us and our businesses safe.

Protecting your Business During a Public Demonstration/ Riot: What can you do.

  • When you hear of an upcoming protest that could affect your business, hire off-duty police or private security – law enforcement presence can be a deterrent
  • If the demonstration remains peaceful and on public property, as a business owner, you are confined to monitoring the situation
  • If a demonstration on public property turns violent, report it to the police
  • If demonstrators enter private property – communicate to the group the parameters in which they will be allowed to continue their protest on your property, or demand the protesters leave and if they do not leave, contact the police
  • Send your employees home and/or close your business to help ensure personal safety of non-protestors
  • Act as monitor for your business – keep an eye on protestors, make notes of any person who is acting in a threatening manner or damages property and report them to police when they arrive
  • When the police arrive, you can request they remain on site to monitor the demonstration or request they initiate criminal trespass proceedings
  • Note: if you request police presence to monitor the demonstration, they will have to leave if they are needed to respond to a call.

Bellingham Police say communication and cooperation are Key

With the increase in both frequency and intensity of demonstrations by a variety of civic and social justice groups in Whatcom County, the Whatcom Business Alliance (WBA) invited representatives of the Bellingham Police Department to attend its September board meeting to discuss a business’s rights during a demonstration.

The meeting was both informational and insightful, and it was apparent that communication is key for all parties to ensure the safety of everyone involved. However, we were surprised to learn law enforcement cannot show up and forcibly remove demonstrators from private property unless the business owner chooses to press charges for criminal trespass. Without the cooperation of the business owner, law enforcement’s hands are tied unless demonstrators cause active harm or engage in destruction of property.

Patrol Lt. Don Almer, a 22-year veteran who has served in a variety of tactical positions including the SWAT team, bomb squad and the civil disturbance unit, explained that when the department hears about an upcoming demonstration, they will inform any targeted business and will engage in dialog with the protesters to open lines of communication, including where they will be demonstrating, for how long and what their goals are.

“While some cities still take a hardline approach, Bellingham is different,” said Lt. Almer. “The protesters tend to be different, with 99% conducting peaceful demonstrations, getting their message out there, then leaving the site fairly quickly. Communicating prior to the event generally helps keep things peaceful. Hardline approaches can actually inflame a situation, because sometimes conflict is what protesters want.”

Though permits are required by the City of Bellingham, not all organizers will apply for one. Not having a permit is a civil infraction, which the police department can’t enforce. So as long as a demonstration is peaceful and is held on public property, police are restricted to the role of monitor.

That changes if the demonstrators intrude on private property, such as the recent protests at Puget Sound Energy and US Bank, which then gives the business owner the right to contact the police and request demonstrators be charged with criminal trespass and forcibly removed from the premises.

Criminal trespass is committed when a person enters or remains on another’s property without the owner’s consent. A person charged with criminal trespass will be arrested, and can be barred from entering the business for a set period of time or even indefinitely. The length of time is at the business owner’s discretion.

Lt. Almer noted, “Once granted the authority, we will give the demonstrators the opportunity to leave voluntarily. Many do. Those that don’t, it is then a crime, and we can then forcibly remove them. Without explicit authority from the business to trespass, it would violate the protester’s civil rights to forcibly remove them from the premises.”

Unfortunately, most businesses in Bellingham choose not to initiate criminal trespass proceedings because of concerns about negative press or the lengthy process for law enforcement to respond, corral and arrest lawbreakers. Often businesses that do initiate trespass proceedings end up dropping the charges because they do not want to participate in the prosecution proceedings.

“It can be frustrating, because it takes a lot of time for the crisis disturbance unit to come in and make arrests,” explained Deputy Police Chief Dave Doll. “Then charges get dropped later. There’s no accountability, and it emboldens the protesters. We need your support from arrest through prosecution to make a difference in the long term.”

The WBA and its board members wish to thank the representatives from the Bellingham Police Department who attended the meeting: neighborhood officers Dante Alexander and Eric Osterkamp, Patrol Lieutenants Don Almer and Jason Monson and Deputy Police Chief Dave Doll. We appreciate the sacrifices our law enforcement agencies make to keep us and our businesses safe.

What can you do to protect your business during a protest?

  • When you hear of an upcoming protest that could affect your business, hire off-duty police or private security – law enforcement presence can be a deterrent
  • If the demonstration remains peaceful and on public property, as a business owner, you are confined to monitoring the situation
  • If a demonstration on public property turns violent, report it to the police
  • If demonstrators enter private property – communicate to the group the parameters in which they will be allowed to continue their protest on your property, or demand the protesters leave and if they do not leave, contact the police
  • Send your employees home and/or close your business to help ensure personal safety of non-protestors
  • Act as monitor for your business – keep an eye on protestors, make notes of any person who is acting in a threatening manner or damages property and report them to police when they arrive
  • When the police arrive, you can request they remain on site to monitor the demonstration or request they initiate criminal trespass proceedings
  • Note: if you request police presence to monitor the demonstration, they will have to leave if they are needed to respond to a call.
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