Report: Wis. Capitol protests could've been handled better
Madison, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin officials did not properly plan for the massive protests inside and outside the Capitol last winter and communication could have been better, according to a report released Friday.
The Wisconsin Emergency Management prepared the "After Action Report" about the handling of demonstrations in February and March against a Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to eliminate most of public employees' collective bargaining rights.
Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch requested the review to improve planning for future events.
"Our top priority and legal responsibility was to keep visitors safe and secure while ensuring that people could conduct their business in the Capitol," Huebsch said in a statement. "We were successful in doing that. However, I knew that behind-the-scenes, law enforcement faced numerous logistical challenges coordinating the response, so I asked Emergency Management to help DOA and the participating agencies identify areas for improvement."
The Legislature ultimately passed Walker's proposal, which went into effect last month. Along with limiting collective bargaining, it requires public employees to contribute more to their health care and pensions.
Tens of thousands of people gathered at the Capitol in protest, and at one point in March, a judge had to issue an order blocking people from sleeping in the building.
Among the weaknesses noted by the report:
-There was no clear decision maker, with direction coming from the governor's office and the Department of Administration. It also notes there was no clear chair of command between policy makers and law enforcement.
-Agencies were not allowed to coordinate plans as the protests unfolded, which diminished a coordinated response early on.
-Planning between agencies was not finished until the protests started.
-Some personnel worked too many extended shifts in a row.
-Protesters used social media to mobilize and react quickly, and the state could have used it more to get information out to the public. State officials could have improved monitoring of social media to anticipate crowd psychology and actions, the report said.
-Law enforcement's mission was not clear and the only direction given was to get personnel to a designated site. Law enforcement also needed onsite training.
The report said the relationship between protesters and law enforcement remained generally positive, but there were no attempts to explain any changes in security.
Strengths included managing large crowds of protesters, flexible planning and interagency cooperation, the report said.
Huebsch noted the report's recommendations helped state officials improve operations and communication before the Legislature's budget debate last month.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)