GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith visited WFRV Local 5 This Morning for a Community Update, discussing peaceful protests, the city’s curfew, and how officers are dealing with the ongoing events.
Last Sunday’s peaceful protest turned violent and businesses were damaged. Can you explain what happened?
Chief Smith says the protest was peaceful Sunday, adding that he was out with protesters as they went through various streets, making their voices heard.
“All of a sudden, they got to the Marathon gas station, and it turned violent,” he explains. “Suddenly the crowd rushed into the Marathon, started looting things. The number one looted item was frozen pizza – I don’t know why -, cigarettes, tipped over a bunch of property inside there.”
The Chief says at one point, somebody fired some gunshots inside the station. He went on to say that numerous people were looting and throwing objects at officers on scene.
Following Sunday night’s events, a curfew was enacted in Green Bay, which has now been extended through Monday, June 8. Why do you believe this is needed and has it helped?
Chief Smith says the decision to enact a curfew came after groups of individuals, mostly young people, began wandering through the city and vandalizing businesses, starting small fires, and harassing motorists trying to get home or to work.
“There are a lot of things that happened that night that were absolutely inappropriate,” Chief Smith said. “I support protesters 100 percent, but when you cross that line and start committing vandalism, or stealing from stores, or lighting fires, you’re a criminal and you’ll be dealt with like a criminal.”
He explains that the curfew allows law enforcement the opportunity to arrest those individuals that are committing criminal acts.
Has the violence at protests continued? Have you made any arrests or issued citations?
“No, and all of the rest of the protesters in Green Bay have been terrific,” Chief Smith said. “People get out there, say what’s on their mind – like I always say, [protesting] is as American as apple pie.
He adds that 10 people have been arrested for curfew violations – five on Tuesday night, five on Wednesday night. Officers are giving individuals warnings and advising them that there is a curfew, but if they refuse to leave, they are arrested.
You decide to bring in the National Guard – why did you feel the need and is it helping?
“We needed them because we just don’t have enough cops here in Green Bay to protect the city with when there is a group of protesters that turn violent,” Chief Smith explained. “[Sunday night], we had about 60 officers at the police station because we were told that they were coming to police headquarters to try and do damage.”
He went on to say that the National Guard is not patrolling neighborhoods, but instead, they are intended to guard state, local, and federal municipal buildings.
“It frees up our officers to go out in the community and protect and patrol all of our neighborhoods.”
There have been more peaceful protests, which you’ve said you support, and those will continue. We have video of one of your officers kneeling with protesters at one of the protests. How are your men and women dealing with this? Is there support for them?
“We have protests scheduled throughout the next few days and then there is a large one on Sunday. We’re working with the organizers, trying to make sure we keep it safe and keep it peaceful,” Chief Smith said. “They’ve been very supportive and, usually, the protesters are great. There’s a lot of anger in this town, mistrust of police, and people have a lot of emotions running high right now. I totally understand that and I support their right to protest, but they can’t break the law.”
The Chief went on to say that this has been tough on the officers as they work long days and are away from their families. He adds that families are worried about the officers.
“We’ve got a great group of officers out there, they’re out there working hard every day, they have a real ‘community-orientation’ here,” he continues. “I think they understand the anger people are feeling. They’re doing a great job out there, soldiering on.”