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On the Record: Q & A with new WI Capitol Police Chief Dave Erwin

By   /   September 10, 2012  /   12 Comments

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Less than two months into his tenure, new Capitol Police Chief Dave Erwin in the past two weeks has found himself in the headlines after police cited 11 protesters for displaying signs in the Capitol without a permit.

Capitol Police Chief Dave Erwin sits down with Wisconsin Reporter to discuss the recent arrests at the Capitol.

Erwin previously said he would enforce administrative rules more diligently than former Capitol police chief Charles Tubbs. While following through on his promise, some see Erwin’s tactics as undermining the First Amendment and a citizen’s right to protest.

Erwin, a former Marine and 16-year member of the Wisconsin State Patrol, sat down with Wisconsin Reporter to give his account of the activity at the Capitol since he’s arrived. Here’s what he said:

An account in one of the papers described an incident in which a young girl and her grandmother were harassed at the Capitol. Can you speak to that a little and describe the approach you’re taking as new Capitol police chief?

I had an incident on the second day I was here, where I was walking through the Capitol and I saw a grandmother and her granddaughter walking through the Capitol ahead of me a few paces, and I heard someone let out a really extremely loud scream in the Capitol.

And so what I saw was the little girl tell her grandmother, ‘Grandma, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in this Capitol. I’m scared….’

And it was unfortunate. I watched a grandmother and her granddaughter coming here to have a positive experience at our state Capitol be frightened and startled and leave terrified.

And I knew right there what my mission was here. I knew that as new police chief my job was to make this building accessible to all. To the 5-year-old, to the grandmother, to the person taking a shortcut through the building, to whoever, to people petitioning their governor — government.

What’s been the disconnect with getting that message across?

In any situation, news media likes a good story. If they tell the entire facts that we support freedom of speech and that it doesn’t make maybe for good media sometimes, but it’s the truth. It’s just something that you have to do respectfully.

We just had a Red Cross event last week, three days in a row and the story is we had a crackdown. We didn’t have a crackdown. We had a permitted event that took place on the first floor of the rotunda.

I did receive complaints, and we are currently investigating where one of the nurses (said) she would never come back here again. She said people taunted her. They were disrespectful totally to her and were even calling her names.

And that is unacceptable. The people had a permit and they expect to be protected and we didn’t have that. And so we have a group of people that come here, and last week they were holding signs and they are part of this group that, for lack of a better word, are terrorizing people at this Capitol.

On Friday, 150 people descended here for the solidarity sing-along and no arrests were made. What was the difference in policy there?

The difference is resources. We didn’t have a permitted event, so we weren’t expecting 150 people to come, so what we have to do is protect the people that are here, the people that work in this building. So we have to patrol and protect and ensure everyone’s safety.

Where you have an event when you hand out song books and you meet every day, that’s not a spontaneous event. When the same players show up every day in participating in an event, whether that’s holding signs — that they’ve put a lot of labor of love into. Some of these signs are large, they’re many yards long and you know they meet here every noon hour and display them over the edge. It’s prohibited. It’s prohibited clearly. You don’t have a permit to do it and it’s prohibited. And so it has to stop.

How do you balance the enforcement of spontaneous protests we saw at the Capitol last year and the permitted activities we’ve discussed?

In the administrative codes we have an exemption for spontaneous events. Spontaneous events will occur and we will protect and there will be no enforcement actions.

But permitted events, if you have a permit, we have to share this building. We can’t let a few people — because they’re vocal — have their way here in this building and we’re not going to. And we’re going to move forward with enforcement. If you don’t have a permit, ask for one. It doesn’t cost anything to get a permit. I sign them all the time.

What about the difference in holding signs and, as you’re talking about, displaying signs?

I’m a law enforcement officer and you know we have court cases that happen every day and we adjust our enforcement to that. So we’re looking at it under review, but it also says there are some disclaimers or disqualifiers for that. It says if you’re part of a group of more than four ,that disqualifies you. This is clearly people that are with a group. So, there are disqualifiers and we’re going to look at those citations and evaluate what was issued and what was done last week, because that is new information to us as of Thursday.

Before deciding to go this route with enforcement, were you in contact with the administration? Did this directive come from them?

This has nothing to do with the (Gov. Scott) Walker administration … no one. Like I told you, I’m the police chief here. I’m the decision maker here. The first thing I did was look through our department. I saw we had a large number of cases that were dismissed. And I’m like, ‘What are we doing wrong?’

I looked — the administrative code was in place since 1979. So I’m like — what’s different? What did this administration change from the (former Gov. Jim) Doyle administration?

And you know what I find out — nothing. It’s written down and we’re moving forward with it.

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  • http://www.occupyappleton.org/ Kegan Schuyler May

    On Friday, 150 people descended here for the solidarity sing-along and no arrests were made. What was the difference in policy there?

    The difference is resources. We didn’t have a permitted event, so we weren’t expecting 150 people to come, so what we have to do is protect the people that are here, the people that work in this building. So we have to patrol and protect and ensure everyone’s safety.

    Where you have an event when you hand out song books and you meet every day, that’s not a spontaneous event. When the same players show up every day in participating in an event, whether that’s holding signs — that they’ve put a lot of labor of love into. Some of these signs are large, they’re many yards long and you know they meet here every noon hour and display them over the edge. It’s prohibited. It’s prohibited clearly. You don’t have a permit to do it and it’s prohibited. And so it has to stop.

    If the singers show up everyday, how do you justify claiming that you “weren’t expecting 150 people to come”?

  • Susan miller

    Singing and banners…terrorizing bah humbug….so this is becoming the FoxNews lies of policing

    Try a right winger with a gun ,concealed,full of rage watching the SingALong.,that happened today, now that is terrorizing

    Yep, maybe you should offer to interview these terrorized people

    Did Erwin bother to tell you there are pages of regulations that go with that permit that they don’t tell people about and selectively enforce,

    Did he tell you that the citizens using their free speech rights have been called criminals,did he tell you we have

    Heard over their radios, “are they Protesters or Regular People” if by regular people they mean those who don’t care about losing their rights, or those who don’t mind politicians who say, yes no health care, yes no unions who fight for a living wage or safe working conditions, while they themselves have life long GOVERMENT Health Care And pensions

    The whole thing is crazy….they are making stuff up…they are filming people,Erwin refused to answer Rep tTaylors questions and walked out of their meeting……Safety is often used as an excuse to use tactics that are about control and eliminating people’s rights…The question now is what will happen first, trumped up charges or John Doe leaving the Capitol to don an orange jumpsuit

  • solidRity singer

    Lies period. I’ve been there longer than Erwin. He lies. So sad. He used to be private security for Walker. We have video of him harassing people in a parking ramp. Lying just like Walker.

  • Carol Flaningam

    Thank you Capitol Police Chief Erwin for being a man of common sense, thoughtfulness to the needs of everyone to the best if your ability and a respecter of the law of the land. This article was very refreshing. If you want the job done…find a Marine…always works. I felt so bad last year when our Capitol building was trashed, disrespected and used in such unlawful ways. I believe now it has an honorable caretaker. Thank you again.

  • Laura Gerber

    I don’t believe the story about the granddaughter or the nurse. The red cross gave new t shirts to the people who had them taken away and were ticketed for holding them up. Free speech is and will always be a fundamental basis to democracy. Good governments consider all constituents. Walkers administration practices taxation without representation. They refuse to acknowledge they went too far and were the cause of the dissent.

  • Dean Pearson

    The capitol and other public buildings belong to us all. I hope Chief Erwin keeps it enjoyable for all of us. Protestors have rights, but not the right to infringe on the rights of others. Get rid of the “in your face” style of protesting. If you want me to respect your rights, start by respecting mine. No noisemakers. Signs outside.

  • Pingback: This Week’s Citations at Capitol Abridge Our Right to Freely Assemble « Forward for Liberty

  • http://wiscinsinreporter.com Wisconsin Native

    Despite what you hear on the news, the silent majority is behind Chief Erwin and making the Capitol safe and friendly. Go home disgruntled people and remember the manners your mother taught you. Foot stomping will not help your cause. Shame on you!

  • Daryn

    Well said…it amazes me the lack of manners and respect these people have. We all have complaints in life, it is how we chose to handle them is what defines our character, or lack there of.

  • Wisconsinite

    Finally! Someone who will do the right thing. It’s OUR capitol (we the people), not the losers who show up each lunch hour or the vandals who illegally occupied the building previously.

  • tomkastle

    So… randomly arresting people, using pain compliance holds, and provoking violence is helpful…how? Singing is “terrorizing”? Notice Erwin is doing nothing to stop the Sing Along only to provoke and intimidate. Time to bring back a competent professional to head the once respected Cap Police

  • tomkastle

    Since Erwin’s attack of Damon Terrell, the Fire Chief, Madison Police Chief and Dane County Sheriff have come to “observe” his people in “action”, The UW Police Chief has also testified against him. Normal law enforcement officers are not behind Erwin. http://m.host.madison.com/news/opinion/column/brian-austin-crackdown-on-protesters-not-a-wisconsin-value/article_fea0fab9-d56f-52e7-8b7a-3dd99ff52db8.html#ixzz2eVPDjtEl