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Law enforcement experts detail how police secure large events and what officers can learn from Highland Park

Shooting July Fourth Parade
Posted at 5:03 PM, Jul 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-05 19:51:44-04

MILWAUKEE — Safety and security is on the minds of many parade-goers following the mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois.

Watching hundreds of people drop their belongings and sprint for their lives at a Fourth of July parade has people across the country and here in Wisconsin wondering if they can safely attend large gatherings in their communities anymore.

Matthew Filipowicz says it isn’t going to let it keep him and his son from having a good time.

"I'm still going to take him to large gatherings because otherwise you're letting these maniacs win,” Filipowicz said.

Yanira Campbell also has a 3-year-old son, but she sees things differently.

"I don't feel like I can protect him as much as I want to and that's the scariest part because even with me trying to protect him, anything can happen,” she said.

After the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy, the city spent $800,000 to buy new barricades. Waukesha also changed its parade route to close it off to traffic.

Similarly, after 21 people were shot in Milwaukee’s Entertainment District after a Bucks playoffs game this spring, Governor Tony Evers allocated $2 million to provide security fencing.

But as retired Milwaukee police supervisors who were assigned to secure dozens of festivals, parades and firework shows, Andra Williams and Kerry Flowers say those precautions can’t stop all threats.

"These are open space events,” Flowers said. “You cannot address every avenue that a citizen approaches from."

Williams says law enforcement agencies are always the first line of defense providing security at large outdoor gatherings. He says departments spend weeks, if not months, planning and preparing for each event.

While there are typically dozens of uniformed officers there to show a visible presence, Williams says what you often don’t see are several plain-clothed officers wandering the grounds or posted on top of roofs.

"Unfortunately, these events are learning moments for police officers and commands across the country,” he said. “We look at these events now and say, OK, in the past, some of these things would have been like just never thought of. You would never consider, ‘hey, someone's going to drive an SUV through this’, or ‘someone's going to be on a rooftop’, but now, each one of these incidents now basically improves the training."

William says he believes law enforcement agencies near and far will respond to this parade mass shooting by assigning even more officers to events. He also thinks it’s time to start sending tactical units to large events so they could respond in seconds rather than minutes if a threat is identified in real-time.

"Each jurisdiction is going to have to look at the situation and evaluate, do we have enough? Do we have enough for this type of scenario occurring and then evaluate and then make the appropriate changes,” Williams said.

Williams says people who go to large public gatherings need to feel comfortable telling police if they see something out of the ordinary. Each officer is in contact with command staff who can immediately dispatch other officers to an area of concern.

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