March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Why was the Lansing Police Department called back before protests got heated at the Capitol Wednesday?

Friday, March 18 — On Wednesday afternoon, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero addressed thousands of protesters on the Capitol lawn, supporting them in their fight against Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget and legislation pending viewed by those protesters as union-bashing.

Bernero told the crowd at the beginning of his speech (which is posted on Bernero’s Facebook page): “I want to assure you, you can stay as long you’d like, the police won’t bother you.”

The police did arrest some protesters, but it wasn’t Lansing police.

Loud cheers from the crowd followed Bernero’s comment. And the Michigan State Police arrested protesters Wednesday night at the Capitol without the help of Lansing police, even though the LPD was on the scene earlier and had agreed to help the state police.

The state police arrested 14 people Wednesday night, a spokesperson said. The night before, some protesters had pledged to stay all night, but left without incident.

Lansing Police Chief Teresa Szymanski ordered Lansing officers to leave the Capitol Wednesday around 5:30 p.m., perhaps a little too soon, an LPD spokesman said.
%u2028“We did, we pulled out. We told them (LPD officers) to leave,” said Lt. Noel Garcia, a spokesman with the LPD. “The chief (Szymanski) was under the impression everything was OK there when it wasn’t. She has come out and taken responsibility for maybe pulling troops out a little early.”

But it is unclear why Szymanski was under the impression that the situation was “OK.”

Randy Hannan, Bernero’s deputy chief of staff, said in an e-mail that Bernero and Szymanski “talk regularly about law enforcement and they did discuss the situation at the State Capitol.”

“He (Bernero) expressed his hope that we could get our officers back on the streets and into our neighborhoods protecting Lansing residents as soon as possible, but he left the decision as to the timing to our chief of police. He also noted, as he does with all of our department directors, that in this time of extremely limited resources, we have to be diligent about keeping costs down and keeping our focus on our primary mission to provide quality services to our residents and businesses.”

Hannan added that Bernero’s remarks on the Capitol steps “were directed to the thousands of peaceful, law-abiding protesters who came to our city to be heard by their government. Had they chosen to stay on the Capitol grounds overnight in a peaceful and orderly fashion, he would have no problem with it. The State Capitol is the public square for the entire state of Michigan, so he believes we need to have a wide tolerance for peaceful, law-abiding expressions of free speech, whether or not we agree with the point of view being expressed.”

Garcia did not comment any further on the situation. Szymanski issued a statement this afternoon that said she made her decision based on “consultation with my field command, Michigan State Police and Mayor Virg Bernero.”

“This was a Michigan State Police operation that required no assistance with arrests. In times of budgetary restraint it is my job to make the difficult decisions on how to deploy the city's police resources,” the statement continues. “I recognize that the Michigan State Police is responsible for the protection of the State Capitol and when they need our assistance we will respond. We value our positive working relationship with the Michigan State Police and are committed to maintaining it.”

Bernero’s office, in its own release, said “the MSP has confirmed to us that they did not require the assistance of Lansing police to effectuate the arrests that were made, and Lansing Police Chief Teresa Szymanski has confirmed that she determined when to withdraw Lansing officers from the scene and redeploy them to protecting Lansing citizens, neighborhoods and businesses.”

Bernero’s release also said, “We were called upon to back up MSP at this week’s state Capitol protests and we responded.”

As far as “protests in general” go, Bernero’s release said: “I support the right of Americans to peacefully demonstrate and to petition their government for the redress of grievances. Indeed, people around the world are fighting and dying for such rights at this very moment. As long as protesters are peaceful and law-abiding, they should not be subject to arrest.”

But if the LPD was called upon for backup, it is unclear why they left before the arrests happened.

Tiffany Brown, spokesperson with the state police, said there was no “formal” agreement between LPD and the state police regarding backup, but she would not comment on if there was an informal agreement.

“Responding to protests at the Capitol was a state police operation,” she said. “Our troopers did not require assistance.”

Brown added in an e-mail that LPD “left a few hours before any protesters were arrested.” Brown said the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department agreed to lodge the 14 protesters who were arrested by the state police.