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The cost of free speech isn't cheap at UC Berkeley

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — There is a price to pay for free speech, and the University of California, Berkeley forecasts inflation. It cost the famously liberal university an estimated $600,000 to put the campus on virtual lockdown as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro spoke Thursday night.

That's on top of another $600,000 spent in April to secure the campus during the planned visit of right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, which was ultimately canceled. An additional $200,000 was spent on security for an event featuring former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, which was abruptly called off when left-wing anarchists rioted outside the event.

"It's an incredible amount of money," campus spokesman Dan Mogulof said Friday, a day after the Shapiro event. "And while we don't regret that we spent it given the event was held peacefully, we certainly would have rather spent it on other purposes."

The current tally of roughly $1.4 million is expected to multiply if an event organized by Yiannopoulos — billed as "Free Speech Week" — goes ahead later this month. Yiannopoulos says he has lined up 20 speakers including Coulter and Steve Bannon, ex-chief strategist for President Donald Trump, to speak on campus during a four-day event.

UC Berkeley officials say that event is not yet confirmed but they will prepare security accordingly if it takes place. "We can't turn a blind eye to recent events in the city, around the campus and the country," Mogulof said. "So we accept that we will need to continue to do what is necessary to support our non-negotiable commitment to the First Amendment and safety of our campus."

Berkeley's reputation as a liberal stronghold and the birthplace of the 1960s Free Speech Movement has made the city and campus flashpoints for the country's political divisions, drawing extremist groups from the left and right.

Four political demonstrations, starting with the Yiannopoulos event, have turned violent since February, prompting officers to come up with new strategies to control rowdy and sometimes dangerous crowds.

Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor, was invited by campus Republicans. His speech drew several hundred protesters who held a protest outside but there was no violence. Police sealed off the building where Shapiro was speaking and required attendees to pass through metal detectors and police barricades that kept protesters at a distance.

Streets and nearby indoor parking lots were closed. A list of banned items Thursday included shields, masks, bandanas, poles and torches, and for the first time in two decades, the city council authorized city officers to use pepper spray to control violence.

City police said nine people were arrested mainly for having banned items. There were no injuries or property damage. The university has declined to say how many officers were on hand but reinforcements were called in from all 10 UC campuses and from law enforcement agencies around the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

The largest costs were for bringing in the reinforcements and paying their room, board, travel and overtime, as well as overtime costs for campus police and staff to work during the evening event, Mogulof said.

The university has struggled financially in recent years, but Mogulof said the security expenses would not cut into academic spending. "Our operating budget is north of $2.6 billion a year. You're going to have allowances for unforeseen situations," he said.

Associated Press writer Sudhin Thanawala contributed to this report.