As the mass shooting was unfolding in San Bernadino, California, local and federal law enforcement officials joined Gov. Scott Walker and Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general and Wisconsin Homeland Security advisor, in urging citizens to report unusual activity in their communities.
“What we’re all reinforcing, especially now as we go into the holiday season, is something we brought to Wisconsin’s attention three years ago — if you see something, say something,” Walker said during a Dec. 2 press conference at the state capitol. “While there are many agencies at the federal, state and local level working on keeping the people of this state and country safe, whether from criminal or terrorist activity, one of the most important tools that we have in those efforts are everyday concerned citizens here in the state.”
Walker said the “See Something, Say Something” campaign is based on the premise that concerned citizens reporting unusual activity are among the most effective means of preventing criminal or terrorist acts. He reminded the public to continue using 9-1-1 to report immediate emergencies, but to call 1-877-WI-WATCH (1-877-949-2824) or log on to https://milwaukee.gov/wiwatch with concerns about something that seems out of the ordinary.
“To keep us safe, now and into the future in Wisconsin and around the country, we need people to step up and to let us know about situations that raise concern so we can look into them with the hope being that it’s not anything critical at all,” Walker said.
“I’m proud to share this message with my law enforcement colleagues, and I’m grateful for the governor’s leadership.” Dunbar said. “Our law enforcement is the best in the world and is working hard to keep us safe. Our National Guard is working with law enforcement to assist if needed. However, this mission is not just for the professional — every citizen has a role to play. We must be vigilant, and if it looks wrong it probably is.
“Trust your instincts,” Dunbar continued. “If you see something, say something.”
The governor was reluctant to comment about events in San Bernadino as it was an ongoing situation.
“It reinforces the argument we’re making here today that in almost all of these cases there’s something that predated this,” Walker said. “There’s something that happened in advance that raised an eyebrow.”
David Matthews, administrator with the state Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, described the campaign as a partnership.
“We are asking for additional partners,” Matthews said. “We are asking all the citizens of this state to be partners with us.”
Matthews explained that contacting the website or calling the hotline provides information to the state’s fusion centers, the Southeastern Wisconsin Threat Analysis Center (STAC) in Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Statewide Information Center (WSIC) in Madison, Wisconsin. The fusion center gathers and analyzes information, and distributes pertinent information to law enforcement agencies. As information is compiled, agents determine if a potential threat exists that requires an appropriate law enforcement response.
“Our eyes are very limited compared to the citizens of this state,” Matthews explained. “Nobody wants a citizenship that’s afraid, and that’s not the point of this. We’re simply asking you to partner with us, and to be aware, and to pay attention in your communities, where you know better than anyone else what it is that’s different.”
David Funkhouser, Kiel police chief and president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, recalled a citizen call about an unfamiliar vehicle in a neighborhood that resulted in a police response that led to the arrest of individuals on charges of burglary and drug trafficking.
“A simple phone call can make a difference in a case,” Funkhouser said.
Iowa County Sheriff Steve Michek, past president of the Badger State Sheriffs Association, encouraged the public to remain attentive and to trust their intuition.
“Here’s where we need your help as citizens of this state — by taking notice of someone or something, some activity that is out of the ordinary or suspicious,” Michek said. “We want people to report that, and report it immediately to law enforcement.”
Michek said much of Wisconsin is rural, served by small law enforcement agencies that may not have the opportunity to notice suspicious behavior or activity.
“That’s why we need you,” Michek said. “Please have the character to risk being wrong. Most likely, if there’s something telling you something’s wrong, you won’t be wrong.”
Bob Shields, the FBI special agent in charge of its Milwaukee division, said the greatest weapon against terrorism is unity.
“That unity is built on partnerships with law enforcement, the private sector and the public,” Shields said. “It is built on the idea that together, we are smarter and stronger than we are standing alone. So in partnership, we continue to urge the public to remain vigilant at all times.”
Dunbar and Walker emphasized that any investigations resulting from information provided to the fusion center would be conducted professionally, carefully, discretely and sensitively — no one is going to violate anyone’s civil liberties.
Walker said that providing information about unusual activity may not always prevent tragedies, but it puts the state in a better position to do so.
“People say, ‘I don’t want to be a bother, I don’t want to be a burden’ — we make it easy,” Walker said.