UNC doesn't know how much it now spends on security around the Silent Sam Confederate statue, a university spokesman said. But last August, the police chief put the estimate at $621,000 annually.
UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken wrote to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt in August, providing an estimate that the department was spending roughly $1,700 a day to maintain a presence in McCorkle Place around the monument.
"If required to continue with the current level of vigilance the cost will be approximately $621,000," he wrote.
A UNC police spokesman, Randy Young, backed away from that figure Thursday. He said there is no firm figure on what it costs to secure the statue today.
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"Chief McCracken’s letter was intended to estimate the costs for very specific security needs at a specific moment in time," Young said. "We don't have an estimate on how much the University has spent for security related to the monument on any other given day, as costs related to the monument would be a part of broader security staffing needs in McCorkle Place, a highly trafficked area on campus. Additionally, costs would vary by day based on the needs on that day and the salary rates of those assigned, among other factors."
McCracken's letter was dated Aug. 21, 2017, the same day as a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper from Folt, UNC President Margaret Spellings, UNC Board of Governors Chairman Lou Bissette and UNC-CH trustee chairman Haywood Cochrane. That letter warned the governor of "significant safety and security threats" around Silent Sam. A large protest was planned for the next day, Aug. 22.
"As the school year begins, UNC-Chapel Hill has been placed in a position where it must devote limited law enforcement resources to the potential activities surrounding Silent Sam, while at the same time continuing to maintain a safe and secure environment throughout the rest of the campus," the four leaders wrote to Cooper. "UNC-Chapel Hill expects to incur significant additional ongoing security costs as a result."
The letter was written in the aftermath of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., when white supremacists held a march and clashed with protesters. It also followed the tearing down of a Confederate statue in downtown Durham by demonstrators and the removal of a vandalized statue of Robert E. Lee at Duke University Chapel.
Folt and Spellings, along with the board chairmen, alerted Cooper that the campus would likely require support from state federal agencies and asked the governor to convene the N.C. Historical Commission to consider the relocation of Silent Sam. Later, though, they came under intense criticism from a majority of the UNC Board of Governors for writing the letter without input from the board.
Silent Sam has been repeatedly vandalized, most recently in late April when a graduate student was arrested after throwing red ink and blood on the statue. Last year, someone climbed the monument and beat upon the statue's face with a hammer.
A 2015 law prohibits the removal of historic monuments, but provides for relocation when "appropriate measures are required by the State or a political subdivision of the State to preserve the object."
Earlier this month, Democrats in the legislature filed a bill that would authorize the chancellor to move the statue to a protected indoor location.
Rep. Verla Insko, an Orange County Democrat, said that the statue, as a centerpiece on campus, is not safe.
"There's been a series of incidents on campus, so part of our thinking was that it really is time to move the monument inside, partly to protect it and partly because the community consciousness has been raised on the impact on black people, and white people, too, as a reminder of racial inequlaity," Insko said. " And that's just not appropriate right now."
The bill has been parked in the rules committee and is not expected to pass in this legislative session.
Folt has been under pressure by students and faculty to relocate Silent Sam. So far the historical commission has not taken up the issue of the Chapel Hill monuments, though it is studying a proposal by Cooper to move Confederate statues from capital grounds.