‘No specific threat to anything in Madison at this point:’ MPD gives security update ahead of possible protests

MADISON, Wis. — Madison’s interim police chief says as of now, the department is not aware of any specific threats to city as the country braces for possible protests in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration.

Speaking at Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s weekly press briefing, interim Chief Vic Wahl says they’ve been in contact with state and federal authorities about possible threats even before last week’s siege on the U.S. Capitol.

“There is no specific direct threat to Madison or anything in Madison at this point,” Wahl said. “With that said, we work very closely mostly with our state and federal partners to maintain knowledge of the latest intelligence and informational assessments that those agencies are coming up with, and any changes coming from them will cause us to adjust our response accordingly.”

There have been reports of possible armed protests at every state capitol in the country as well as the U.S. Capitol on Sunday and on Wednesday, the day of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Governor Tony Evers has mobilized the National Guard both to the state capitol in Madison and the U.S. capitol to help with security.

Wahl says the department is aware of planned protest activity at the state capitol on Sunday, but nothing on Inauguration Day as of now. Wahl says officers will be present and visible on Sunday.

“Our job as always is to facilitate First Amendment expression while maintaining a safe environment and public safety,” said Wahl.

Madison police have been operating with enhanced staffing levels since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and Wahl says that will continue at least through next Wednesday.

“Because of the national mood, because of the larger national intelligence picture, and out of an abundance of caution, we will continue to maintain an enhanced staffing posture through Inauguration Day,” Wahl said. “And certainly, we will re-evaluate as things go, and if there’s a need to extend it beyond Wednesday, we will certainly do so.”

While there have been no documented threats in Madison to this point, Wahl says people should be alert in the next week and contact them if anything seems out of place.

“It’s very important that people report things to us if things seem suspicious, seem out of place, seem unusual,” said Wahl. “By all means call 911, contact MPD let us look into it. We would much rather have to investigate things that turn out to be harmless than not be aware of something that is of concern.”

Madison police said there are no planned road closures in the city on Sunday or Wednesday, but that could change as response plans are finalized. Wahl also reminded people that there may be spontaneous closures on these days if a group decides to march as part of the protest.

“I think it is important the people are aware of their surroundings and really take extra time to do what is appropriate to maintain their personal safety,” Wahl said. 

Police also said it’s unclear how a crowd or group or respond, when asked if they had a message for downtown residents or business owners.

“If you look at what happened in Washington last week, I’m not aware of any damage or attention focused on private businesses. It was all very government centric, in terms of response and violence and property damage,” Wahl said.