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Missouri officials look at tightening security
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Missouri officials look at tightening security

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Jeff City

"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 in Jefferson City.

JEFFERSON CITY — The riot in the nation’s Capitol has spurred discussions in Missouri about whether the hub of state government needs to alter its security plans.

In talks this week between the legislative branch and Gov. Mike Parson’s administration, concerns have been raised about how to best protect the state Capitol and its inhabitants, but it is not clear yet whether any changes are afoot.

The discussions, according to those familiar with the situation, have primarily centered on two big events coming this month: Monday’s inaugural festivities on the front steps of the Capitol and the governor’s State of the State address on Jan. 27.

Mike O’Connell, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said details about security plans are generally not divulged by police agencies.

“We’re very limited in terms of what we talk about in security issues,” O’Connell said Friday.

In Washington, rioters wielding pro-Trump banners, some with firearms, quickly overwhelmed U.S. Capitol Police as they broke their way into the Senate chamber and offices.

It took hours for police to drive out the insurgents, with more than 60 arrests, five known deaths and the confiscation of guns and explosive devices.

The chief of the U.S. Capitol Police and the sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate resigned in the aftermath.

Although a pro-Trump rally outside the Missouri Capitol Wednesday was not violent, the ability of domestic terrorists to take over a building in Washington left many in Jefferson City concerned that a similar violent meltdown could happen here.

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.

The main point of security in the Missouri Capitol is the 29-member Capitol Police force, which is in charge of the capital complex.

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The chief, Zim Schwartze, took over in January 2020 after the firing of the previous chief, who had advocated for a change in how the department is managed.

Currently, the department is under the authority and budget of the Department of Public Safety, which is controlled by Parson. But there has been a push to put the department under the Missouri State Capitol Commission, which is comprised of lawmakers, judges and statewide officials.

The maneuver would give leaders in the House and Senate more input into how the $1.8 million department operates.

With Parson blocking that effort, however, leaders in the House are poised to change their internal rules to allow the sergeant-at-arms and his assistants to carry weapons. There also are talks about limiting access to doors that lead to the House chamber.

Schwartze did not return messages left at her office, but she said Wednesday that the Trump supporters outside the building were “calm and peaceful” and “followed the rules.”

For large events, like the swearing-in ceremonies and, in some cases, the State of the State speech, additional officers are brought in.

On Monday, for example, park rangers with the Department of Natural Resources and agents with the Department of Conservation, were expected to be on hand to assist the Capitol Police and members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, O’Connell said.

Also on standby are the Jefferson City police department and the Cole County sheriff’s office

With COVID-19 still raging, Parson pared back activities surrounding the inaugural. 

But, said O’Connell, “If anything needs to be ramped up, it can be done.”

Senate Administrator Patrick Baker said he could not comment on security issues, but that the Legislature’s upper chamber is in close contact with law enforcement agencies.

“We are always in communication with the Capitol Police for any event that we’re planning,” Baker said.

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