The “Occupy” protest movement, which began peacefully on Wall Street in New York as a demonstration against financial greed, has led to conflicts between police and protesters in several cities as authorities sought to clear their encampments from public parks. In a survey released in November by the Washington-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA), most respondents said they had developed collaborative relationships with members of their local Occupy movements. But, in the end, officials say a choice had to be made between supporting residents’ right to free speech and protecting public health and safety.

Of the 376 local governments that responded to the ICMA survey, 87 reported Occupy movements in their communities. And, of those 87 cities, 22 percent reported their relationship with the protesters as “very collaborative” and 40 percent said it was “somewhat” collaborative.” Two percent said their relations with the movement were “tense,” and 1 percent said they were “confrontational” or “combative.” By November, however, many cities, including New York, had forced the protesters out of their camps.

The cities that had maintained collaborative relationships with the protesters had cited good communication as the key. “We met with the protesters after they appeared in the county park and outlined what would keep them safe and to provide the group a point of contact if they ran into problems,” Merced, Calif., City Manager John Bramble said in a statement for the survey.

However, communication was a problem in Oakland, Calif., where violent confrontations with police and protesters occurred in October. “Our understanding from hearing what other cities are doing is [the Occupy protesters] tended to have some kind of group that was representative that they could negotiate with. We did not,” says Sue Piper, communications manager for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. “It made it very, very difficult to work with them, because nobody spoke for the group.”

Oakland enlisted the aid of community groups, homeless shelters and activists to talk with the protesters, and eventually convinced most of them to clear out of the city’s Frank Ogawa Plaza before the second round of police action. That action was necessary because of reports of violent crimes occurring in the encampment and health concerns, Piper says. “When people are acting unlawfully, that’s when we have an issue,” she says. “And, there was definitely an element of people in [the Occupy group] who wanted to engage the police.”