Wis. cracks down on Capitol protests

Protestors yell
Protesters yell outside the Assembly Chamber as members of the Wisconsin State Assembly debate provisions of the state's budget repair bill March 10, 2011 in Madison, Wis.
Scott Olson/Getty Images, file

By TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Capitol's new police chief said Monday that he plans to crack down on protesters who don't follow the building's rules because he wants to restore a sense of normalcy and safety to the statehouse.

Chief David Erwin told The Associated Press in an interview that he respects people's right to petition their government, but that he believes some protesters' behavior has crossed into intimidation.

"I understand it's a political environment," Erwin said of the Capitol. "(But) there's a line. We're better than that."

Protesters have become a regular fixture at the Capitol since February 2011, when thousands of people protested at the building for three weeks straight to demonstrate against Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan to limit public unions' collective bargaining rights. That plan eventually became law, but hardcore protesters who have refused to give up have taken to disrupting legislative meetings and floor sessions, and they still gather in the Capitol rotunda almost every day to sing songs and chant at the top of their lungs.

Capitol Police have issued scores of citations against the protesters over the last 18 months, but Dane County District Attorney Isamel Ozanne, a Democrat, has dismissed most of them.

Walker's administration hired Erwin in July to take over the Capitol Police from outgoing Chief Charles Tubbs. Erwin, a former Marine, said he reached an agreement with Ozanne and Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen last week calling for Van Hollen to handle civil citations against the protesters and Ozanne to handle any criminal complaints.

He also said he plans to enforce a policy Walker's administration put in place immediately following the protests calling for groups to obtain permits to be in the building.

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