Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Cost of Protection: More protests lead Harrisburg police to request riot gear.

Mounted state police and sawhorses block the entrance to State Street during recent “anti sharia” protests.

For the past six months, protesters have flocked to Harrisburg to demonstrate against everything from the Trump administration’s proposed travel ban to sharia law—and now it’s beginning to take a toll on the city’s budget.

In a work session tonight, police Capt. Deric Moody asked City Council for $65,000 to pay for 30 “top to toe” riot suits as, he said, the city’s current riot gear is old and inadequate. The money would be transferred from unspent personnel funds.

“We’ve been pulled into almost every demonstration,” Moody said. “Whether (the protest) is at the Farm Show Complex or the Capitol, the streets are ours.”

While state and Capitol police take the lead during protests on state grounds, city police supplement their forces and take the lead outside of state-owned buildings and property.

Currently, city police riot gear consists mostly of aging helmets, shields and gas masks, Moody said. The requested money would buy full riot suits, which Moody described as “scalable,” meaning that parts—individual pieces for shoulders, hands, legs, chests, shins, etc.—could be deployed as needed. The suits also come with helmets, shields and riot sticks, which are longer than standard police sticks, Moody said.

“It’s a fully functional suit,” he said.

Council is expected to act on the request during its legislative session next week.

Earlier this year, the city Police Bureau had asked for more than $200,000 in Dauphin County gaming funds to pay for several items, including the riot suits and a training simulator. However, the county commissioners did not approve their request.

The city is also on the hook for about $7,000 to cover four hours of police overtime pay just for a recent event—the dueling protests over sharia, or Islamic, law, in which masked protesters fought with masked anti-protesters at several places in the city. Another major protest occurred just today, as more than 1,000 union members gathered in front of the Capitol to protest proposed anti-union “right to work” legislation.

Moody told council members that he’s never experienced so many protests during his 25 years as a police officer, a situation he expects to continue.

“As a capital city, we will continue to see more and more and more people come here to exercise their rights,” he said.

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