For the nearly 1,800 sworn officers of the Capitol Police force, the day of the State of the Union address marks one of the most thrilling and memorable times of the year.
With the president visiting the Capitol, dignitaries in attendance and the nation’s political spotlight focused on the House chamber, the men and women who defend the campus consider it their time to shine.
“We’re all hands on deck,” said Paul Nebel, a second-generation Capitol Police officer who serves in the First Responder Unit. “Everyone is here. Even though we know it is going to be a long day, we still feel a special sense of pride knowing that is our building and that we’re taking care of it.”
Months of planning go into security preparations for the event. The Capitol Police partner with the District’s other law enforcement agencies, including the Secret Service, the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Park Police, to implement “a seamless security plan,” according to Capitol Police spokesman Shennell Antrobus.
“When we can receive accolades from some of our peers out and about in D.C. ... it just adds that much more validity to what we do here on a daily basis,” said Nebel, who joined the department in 2004.
Officer Melissa Marshall, a member of the force since 2008, said she always knows the State of the Union will be preceded by a long day, “but you know it’s just going to be fast-paced.”
“There’s going to be all kinds of different pieces that need to fit in together, different departments that need to work with each other,” Marshall continued. “The communication has to be spot on and everybody pretty much has to be on their A-game.”
The all-hands-on-deck approach means Tuesday will be a long day for officers in all departments. For those stationed outside in the frigid, below-freezing temperatures, special preparations must be made. Antrobus said hot beverages, hand warmers and water will be available to help battle the bitter cold in the forecast. Braving the elements is nothing new for Capitol Police personnel. During D.C.’s recent cold snap, the officers stationed outside planned accordingly, bundled up and manned their posts.
“Our officers often do work long hours and are proudly up to the task,” Antrobus said.
Means, methods and specific resources used to protect the Capitol during State of the Union must remain undisclosed for protective purposes. Security measures will severely limit access in and around the Capitol on Tuesday, as ticket holders are shuffled in and out of the House chamber.
Capitol Police will restrict access to the Capitol at 5:30 p.m., or immediately following recess and are responsible for maintaining an access list for the night, according to a memo from House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving that CQ Roll Call obtained. At 7 p.m., the officers will begin closing streets around the grounds.
Opening the doors to the president and his entourage is akin to welcoming guests onto their home turf. The goal is to deliver the commander in chief to the chamber, hear him speak and get him off the grounds safely, Nebel said.
“When we hear he’s cleared the grounds, we know that we can breathe that sigh of relief.”