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SALT LAKE CITY — Public safety officials say they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect the Utah Capitol from riots before Inauguration Day, even though the riots never happened. However, they say it was the right thing to do given the information they had at the time.
At one point, the Department of Public Safety estimated there would be at least 500 protesters at the Utah Capitol on Jan. 17. Col. Michael Rapich estimates they spent $227,000 to boost security around the complex on that day, alone. They based their decision on what they saw both in Utah and in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, and based on information they were receiving from all across the country. That information reportedly showed Trump-supporting groups were planning breaches at statehouses all over the U.S.
Rapich says, "A lot of that seemed to be associating groups we had seen both here in Utah and back at the nation's Capitol."
A lot of the information from national news outlets suggested protesters would come to Salt Lake City to specifically target our Capitol building. Rapich says the news outlets weren't the only ones reporting this. Posts they saw on social media suggested the same thing.
"That was being corroborated," he says. "We had information both locally that we were generating through our sources, and we were getting information from our federal partners, as well."
In the end, fewer than two dozen people came to the Capitol, and those that did protested peacefully. Given what they were told, Rapich says the show of force at the complex was the right strategy.
"If we waited to see what happened, we definitely would not have had time to deploy the resources," he says.
Public safety officials in Utah consulted with law enforcement from other parts of the country, and everyone reportedly came to the same conclusion.
He says, "We were very, very consistent, across the country, with the way pretty much every state was interpreting the same information, and our preparations were very consistent with what other states were doing."
Rapich says several things could have changed after protesters originally proposed to breach statehouses. It's possible the "chatter" they were seeing was wrong, plus, protest organizers seemed to have backed down, not wanting to be connected with more destruction.