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In nod to potential violence, Missouri Capitol swells with police

In nod to potential violence, Missouri Capitol swells with police

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New lawmakers sworn in as Missouri's 2021 legislative session starts

"I am here for my freedom of speech, my freedom, and for my President Donald J. Trump," said Pam Storey, who attended a rally outside the Missouri Capitol to contest the election results on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Jefferson City, Mo.  (Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com)

JEFFERSON CITY — A heavier police presence was in plain view at the Missouri Capitol on Tuesday, as officials responded to threats of violence triggered by President Donald Trump’s election loss.

Officers from the Missouri Highway Patrol and other agencies patrolled the corridors, occasionally stopping in one of the chambers to view the proceedings of the House and Senate.

The boost in police came after the Capitol Police Department, which is in charge of security in the building, asked for assistance following a warning from the FBI that far-right extremist groups are planning to march on state capitals nationwide this weekend.

In a memo to lawmakers, Senate Administrator Patrick Baker told members of the Senate: “You will see additional officers in the Capitol building from the Highway Patrol, Department of Natural Resources and other agencies throughout the coming weeks.”

“This is for the safety of the people in the building in light of recent events across our country,” said Capitol Police Chief Zim Schwartze in a memo to legislative leaders.

Some lawmakers were unnerved after the attack by supporters of Trump on the U.S. Capitol last week, as well as the potential for more violence heading toward next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, said she has faced questions from friends and family about her safety in the Missouri Capitol.

“Heaven forbid anything should happen to us,” Ingle said, adding that the situation is “terrifying.”

She wanted to know how members of the House would be made aware if a threat to the Missouri Capitol is underway.

“That’s been a concern for a lot of us. We have no alert system,” said Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance.

Hicks is sponsoring legislation that would wrest control of the Capitol Police Department from Gov. Mike Parson and put it under a panel that includes the governor, speaker of the House, president pro tem of the Senate, chief justice of the state Supreme Court and chair of the State Capital Commission.

“We’re trying to build up security in the building,” Hicks said.

He said the 34 members of the Capitol Police Department are not equipped to handle an outbreak of violence mirroring what happened in Washington last week.

House Floor Leader Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, agreed.

“I think it is incumbent upon us that we’re providing security for everyone in the building,” Plocher said.

Plocher said the executive branch has not budged in its opposition to shifting control of the Capitol Police Department to a separate panel.

Hicks acknowledged others are fearful for the safety of the denizens of the Missouri Capitol as the annual legislative session begins.

“I know my wife wants me to come home,” Hicks said.

Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said any potential boost in funding for the Capitol Police will be announced when the Republican governor unveils his budget proposal later this month.

Under a change in House rules, the sergeant-at-arms and his deputies will have the ability to carry firearms inside the chamber.

The rule change was not opposed by Democrats, who said it merely formalizes the current practice of the sergeant-at-arms carrying a weapon.

The heightened police presence is allowing the chambers to continue meeting unabated while threats loom.

A memo from Senate Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, for example, showed no break in the upper chamber’s schedule through the remainder of the month.

Security in the Missouri Capitol was tightened in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and again after the 2014 civil unrest in Ferguson, with more screening of visitors and fewer visitor entrances.

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