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Missouri Capitol boosts security as lawmakers cite concerns

January 12, 2021 GMT
Members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol gather outside the state Capitol on Monday, Jan 11, 2021, as final preparations are made for the inauguration of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in Jefferson City, Mo. (AP Photo/David A. Lieb)
Members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol gather outside the state Capitol on Monday, Jan 11, 2021, as final preparations are made for the inauguration of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in Jefferson City, Mo. (AP Photo/David A. Lieb)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House approved new police powers for its security staff Tuesday, and extra law enforcement officers were called to help at the Capitol amid concerns that recent violence at the U.S. Capitol could spread to statehouses nationwide.

The FBI has warned of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C., starting this weekend and leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. That comes after a violent mob backing President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building last week.

The Missouri Capitol had lots of additional law enforcement officers present Monday for Gov. Mike Parson’s inauguration, as is typical for all inaugural events. Concrete barriers that were erected for the inaugural ceremony were removed Tuesday. But some Highway Patrol troopers and state park rangers remained at the statehouse to bolster the ranks of the Missouri Capitol Police.

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An email from Senate Administrator Patrick Baker to staff said Capitol Police had requested help “due to recent events occurring at various capitols throughout the country.” Capitol Police said on Twitter that security measures and staffing are regularly adjusted based on pending events and “information received from public and other sources.”

Capitol Police are responsible for public safety at the Capitol and all state buildings in Jefferson City. The state budget includes $1.8 million for the Capitol Police, with the authority to hire up to 40 full-time staff.

Some House members suggested that Capitol Police aren’t well enough equipped to protect everyone in the building. They noted that when the governor visits the House he is accompanied by a Highway Patrol security detail, and that legislative security looks thinner at other times.

“Emergency preparation is what saves lives. We are finding that we are not prepared, and that is terrifying, I think, for most of us,” said Rep. Keri Ingle, a Democrat from Lee’s Summit.

Republican Majority Leader Dean Plocher agreed.

“We don’t have the ability to respond here. We don’t have the resources. We haven’t crafted a game plan, if you will, to address some things,” said Plocher, of St. Louis County. “But I think it’s something that we need to look into.”

The House approved a rule change sponsored by Plocher to give greater power to the sergeant-at-arms, who is responsible for keeping order in the House galleries and lobby. The sergeant-at-arms now will have law enforcement powers to arrest people for what the state constitution describes as “disorderly or contemptuous behavior” during House sessions. The sergeant-at-arms also will be able to hire other trained law enforcement officers.

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Though Missouri lawmakers cited the violence at the nation’s capital during their debate, the House rule change had been drafted before the Jan. 6 riot. After approving it Tuesday, the House met behind closed doors to hear a security presentation from the sergeant-at-arms.

The Missouri Senate has employed its own part-time security specialist for several years. Baker said the Senate decided last May to hire a former Capitol Police officer as a full-time security specialist and also added a second part-time position. He said the security enhancements weren’t prompted by any particular event.