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'Go. Leave. You Can't Be Here': What Happened When I Tried to Investigate the Connection Between the NYPD and Brookfield Properties, Zuccotti's Owners

Why did a police officer declare my reporting "illegal" just days before the pre-dawn raid on the OWS encampment?

For the past several weeks, a Ford F550 truck has been parked near the corner of Liberty Street and Broadway, on the outskirts of Zuccotti Park. As activists across the street worked to build a new society, it sat like an unblinking sentinel. Even after the park was raided, the protesters scattered and the plaza cleared, the large rig remained. In this new, post-encampment era for the Occupy Wall Street protests, it sits there still.    

The truck in question is white with no markings. Its windows are blacked out, preventing bystanders from peering in. But there’s little question what the vehicle is there for. A 40-foot pole, with a single helix of heavy-gauge electrical cable coiled around it, topped by a video camera, rises from the back of the truck. All day long, that camera is pointed at Zuccotti Park.

That much is no secret. What is less apparent is who is running the truck – literally – and why. 

The New York City Police Department license plate and the fact that TARU (Technical Assistance Response Unit) policemen -- the unit that monitors and videotapes protests – move in and out of the vehicle tell part of the story. But not all of it. Evidence suggests that Brookfield Properties, the commercial real estate firm that also owns Zuccotti Park, is providing the power for the spy wagon and other perks to police. When I tried to investigate, Brookfield’s security personnel enlisted the NYPD to declare my reporting “illegal” and try to run me off the site.

Power Cords and Power Trips

This story begins weeks ago when I noticed a loose extension cord snaking from the side of the big white truck to an outlet at the base of a tree in front of One Liberty Plaza, the massive office tower that looms over Zuccotti Park and is owned, like the park, by Brookfield Properties. The extension cord is still there, but is now taped in place. It has become a more or less permanent fixture on Liberty Street. 

Weeks back, when I first noticed the power cord, I walked to the main entrance of One Liberty Plaza in order to inquire about the electrical power situation. I was stopped cold by security. No one gets in without a building ID badge, I was told.

Now, I knew this wasn’t true. Another badge gets you in the door, too. Without proper building credentials, NYPD officers walk in and out of the One Liberty Plaza all day long, assumedly to use the restroom facilities. I had seen it happen again and again, but I kept this observation to myself and explained that I was a reporter and had some questions. The guard said I could ask him, so I did. Were the outlets in front of the building open to use by the public? No. Did they belong to the building? Yes.

When I asked Melissa Coley, Brookfield’s media contact and a vice president with the firm, if the real estate giant had any agreements to share resources with the NYPD or had issued instructions about aiding the police at One Liberty Plaza, she wouldn’t say. “We politely decline to comment,” Coley wrote in an email. The NYPD also refused to respond to repeated questions about its involvement with Brookfield Properties or One Liberty Plaza. 

The evidence, however, suggests that Brookfield is offering the NYPD perks -- power for their surveillance efforts and aid and comfort for their officers -- that it does not extend to the general public, much less the protesters in Zuccotti Park who repeatedly ran into difficulties in regard to access to electrical power and bathroom facilities, which Brookfield Properties, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the NYPD ultimately used as part of the justification for raiding the park and ending the occupation.