Utah’s state of emergency is in effect: what does it mean and what preparations are underway for possible protests?

Local Politics

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Ahead of potential protests at the Utah State Capitol, the Governor has placed Utah under a state of emergency until next week. While people have a right to free speech, officials will not tolerate violence.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox said it’s a precaution that a state of emergency has been put into place until Thursday, Jan. 21.

“To make sure that we are prepared for whatever might come our way,” he said Thursday during his weekly COVID-19 briefing.

The emergency declaration comes as the state anticipates civil unrest and potential protest outside the Utah State Capitol.

The FBI told ABC4 News Thursday that they haven’t heard of any specific threats around potentially armed protests.

“This executive order is kinda preempting what could possibly be civil unrest,” said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Nick Street.

Street said this declaration allows officials to do what’s necessary to keep law and order.  

“The authority given to the [Utah] Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Safety in being able to make certain calls when it comes to closures of the capitol, utilize and ask for additional help from local partners and also federal partners as well,” he said.

These resources that are available aren’t new, Street told ABC4 News.

“We’ve seen other state of emergencies come during civil unrest like the events of May 30th,” Street said.

But he said it wasn’t implied that they were able to use it without former Governor Gary Herbert’s permission.

If things take a turn for the worst, Street said the declaration allows law enforcement to act without getting Governor Spencer Cox’s approval.

“We will utilize the things outlined in the order to declare an unlawful assembly – if necessary – or push back crowds off the capitol campus, and we have the tools at our disposal to do that,” Street said.

Cox said preparations are already underway ahead of the weekend.

“We are bringing in all of our reserves that we can with the highway patrol – they will be ready this weekend. And the National Guard will be on standby,” Cox said.

Salt Lake County spokesperson Chloe Morroni said they’re also taking precautions.

“We are taking appropriate measures including enhanced security at county facilities,” Morroni said.

For security purposes, officials won’t tell ABC4 News a lot about their plans, but they do say people have a right to free speech, but not unlawful activity.

“We respect the right of Utah residents to peaceably assemble as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution,” Cox said in the state of emergency declaration. “But we draw the line at threats to physical safety or to the Utah Capitol building. No violence of any kind will be tolerated.”

“I know many in the city are concerned about the potential for disruption and even violence in the coming days,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. “People should feel confident knowing that our police department has a plan and they are ready. Salt Lake City PD is working in coordination with partnering agencies throughout the state to ensure that things in our capitol [sic] city remain peaceful, and that is what I expect to happen.”

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