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 to learn the bill increased by over 80% last 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 by 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 on 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 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 to the relationships of all involved.  

A Political Solution May Be Necessary

I want to affirm my respect for Blocker and his team. They are well-qualified, competent professionals with a demonstrated commitment to putting public safety first. Each year, however, their security proposal comes at an ever-increasing cost without regard to budget constraints. If my only priority was to ensure public safety, I would surely ask for every conceivable resource and as many personnel hours as possible.  

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. Blocker continues to push for new equipment and additional staff that would better protect our community, while demonstrating fiscal responsibility and managing 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 a 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 to invest more in our flagship events produced by good partners.

Strategic events like Stonewall Pride and Wicked Manors, beyond just their economic impact, are often catalysts for visitors to become residents. They attract like-minded people to become residents of our community. I believe we must do anything we can to ensure the public safety AND fiscal viability of these events.

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 LGBT 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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or text me at 954.557.2801.  

- Chris Caputo, Wilton Manors City Commissioner