Senator concerned about Capitol police chief’s comments

New Capitol police chief plans to crack down on protesters
Senator concerned about Capitol police chief’s comments

Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller has expressed concerns about Capitol Police Chief David Erwin’s “new plans for Wisconsin’s Capitol.”

Miller, D-Monona, wrote Erwin a letter in response to the chief’s remarks this week that he plans to crack down on disruptive protesters at the Capitol.

Erwin, who has been on the job for a little more than a month, said that loud, incessant yelling for “no reason” at the Capitol needs to stop.

Miller wrote in a letter dated Tuesday that he expects the chief “to meet with legislative leaders and the chief justice before making any changes as we share responsibility for safety and assuring the public’s constitutional rights to access are implemented.”

In the letter, Miller also reminded Erwin that citizens have a right to free and open access to the Capitol building.

In a response letter, Erwin said the policies governing gatherings in the Capitol are not new — in some cases dating back decades — and that the changes made to the process late last year simply codified 22 years of previous practice.

“Asking individuals and organizations to follow the permit process is a reasonable request,” Erwin wrote. He added that his officers have encouraged individuals singing protest songs in the rotunda at noon each day to apply for permits and “have been confused as to their reasons for not wanting to get a permit.”

Erwin also wrote that harassment of legislative staff or members of the press by regular protesters “is not free speech.”

“The Capitol is a place to freely express our opinion and petition the government, but it is also a place of business,” Erwin wrote. “No mother, daughter, sister, son, brother or husband should be treated in this manner at their workplace. It is harassment and it will be cited.”

A spokeswoman for Miller said Erwin’s response was “interesting” but failed to address the concerns outlined in the original letter.