Law enforcement in Durango is holding out hope that any possible protests leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week will remain peaceful, but authorities are also preparing should events turn violent.
“We hope it will not (turn violent),” said Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer. “We have a great community here.”
The FBI has warned that protests are planned in all 50 states in anticipation of Inauguration Day on Wednesday, some of which will likely include armed protesters and could turn violent.
Durango is no stranger to protests this past year – from marches on Main Avenue opposing COVID-19 regulations to shows of defiance surrounding the police killing of George Floyd in May.
While there have been a few small incidents during those events, resulting in some people being arrested or issued citations, Brammer said it is nowhere near the scale of other cities.
“We’ll ensure there’s peaceful places to assemble and gather if they need to,” Brammer said. “But they can’t get out of bounds. Once the law is broken, we have an obligation to enforce the law.”
Indeed, law enforcement across the country has renewed concerns after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., where at least five people, including a police officer, died as a result of the melee.
“Obviously, we have concern,” Brammer said. “I think, unequivocally across the entire United States, everyone has a concern.”
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have been in talks this week and receiving intelligence reports to monitor the situation in Southwest Colorado.
At this point, there’s no direct, viable threat, Smith said, but authorities are preparing should the worst-case scenario arise.
“We’re just keeping our ear to the ground,” he said. “We’re very hopeful we don’t see this come to our community, but in light of recent events in our country, we feel like we have to be prepared.”
It has been reported that protests across the country could start as early as Saturday, and possibly extend beyond Wednesday’s Inauguration Day.
The La Plata County government has chosen to close public access to all of its buildings Wednesday as a precaution. The La Plata County Courthouse will remain open with enhanced security measures.
“This is very much a precautionary measure,” said county spokeswoman Megan Graham. “We’re certainly hopeful nothing will occur, but we want to provide heightened security, not only for our citizens, but for county employees.”
The COVID-19 testing site at the La Plata County Fairgrounds will also be closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Wednesday for Inauguration Day.
Tom Sluis, spokesman for the city of Durango, said city offices will be closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as is the case every year, but no plans are in place to close offices next week as a precaution against protests.
Law enforcement declined to share specifics about preparations, and reinforced that most of the legwork is monitoring the situation and having a plan in place should violence break out.
“Everyone is just on heightened alert,” Brammer said.
Requests for comment to the La Plata County Republicans were not returned.
Carol Cure, chairwoman of the La Plata County Democrats, said the party has no plans to counterprotest or hold any events next week.
“If we were aware of any armed presence, I would certainly caution people to stay at home rather than counterprotest,” she said. “We don’t want anyone being in danger.”
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump called on “ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers.”
“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” Trump said in a statement.
[email protected]durangoherald.comAn earlier version of this story erred in saying La Plata County would close public access to all of its buildings next week as a precaution. Offices will be closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and on Wednesday for Inauguration Day.