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The specter of violence in Copenhagen

This report was originally published on Grist, where you can learn more about what is going on in Copenhagen .

One of the questions hanging over Copenhagen for these two weeks is whether there will be significant violence, especially at mass rallies. The city's English-language newspaper (turns out there is one) has an interesting article about the very long shifts that Danish police will be working during the climate talks—16-hour shifts for 14 straight days. It goes on to wonder if an exhausted police officer is more likely to be irritable and to use poor judgment in high-tension confrontations with protestors.

I know what my own judgment is like when I'm under-rested. But I’m not qualified to speculate on how trained police officers handle this kind of stress. The Copenhagen Post article quotes a "leading sleep expert," Chief Physician Søren Berg.

"The shift plans for the summit are irresponsible," said Berg. "Officers won't have a chance to rest. . . This can mean that officers will be endangering themselves and others."

An officer outside the Bella Center Tuesday night told me the shifts were more like 12 hours, with two hours of briefing/organizing and commuting at either end, adding up to 16 hours. The officer, who would not give his name, said he was free to take days off if he needed them, but that he planned to work the full 14 days. He didn't buy the concern about fatigued police becoming overly harsh with demonstrators.

"For me, it's not a problem," he said.

"The Danish police are very polite," added another officer -- and I haven't seen reason to disagree.

Securing the Bella Center, guarding VIPs, and managing demonstrations, special events, and extra activity is running the Danish government an estimated $122 million.

Protestors, for a variety of causes, plan to stage demonstrations both downtown and at the Bella Center. A group called Climate Justice Action says it will "take over the conference for one day and transform it into a People's Assembly." (Never mind that it's unlikely to succeed, the statement alone has gotten the group attention.) And the city has turned an abandoned beer warehouse into a temporary holding cell for up to 350 people.

Conference attendees don't seem alarmed about the possibility of violence, really. One contact suggested the mood might be "an appropriate level of paranoia," given the setting. And worrying about non-apocalyptic worries is generally discouraged. As everyone here is fond of reminding each other, we should be reserving our freak-outs for the climate threat.

Jonathan Hiskes is a Grist staff writer. He reports, tweets, eats, asks questions, self-promotes, looks out windows, and wonders if it could be like this.

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