Capitol Braces For Inaugural

Police Ready Show of Force For Thursday

Posted January 14, 2005 at 6:26pm

Bolstered by extensive contingency planning, repeated drills and the largest Capitol Police force ever deployed for a presidential inauguration, Congressional law enforcement officials expressed confidence in their preparations for Thursday’s 55th inaugural ceremony.

In a show of force, the Capitol Police Department will position its more than 1,600 sworn officers across the Congressional campus Thursday, part of a massive law enforcement effort designed to bring unprecedented security to the quadrennial event.

More than 6,000 federal, state and local officers are to be on hand for the inaugural ceremony and subsequent parade — designated a National Special Security Event by the Homeland Security Department — in an effort coordinated by the Secret Service.

“I think [security] will be tight enough to deter anybody that would want to make any statements up here,” said House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, who described the agency’s strategy as “very well planned and practiced.”

Assistant Capitol Police Chief James Rohan acknowledged the department has taken part in numerous “table top” exercises with the Secret Service and other agencies to discuss contingency plans for a range of events from natural disasters to suicide bombers.

“It seems like an endless number” of drills, Rohan said.

Additionally, the department has conducted several exercises for its rank-and-file officers, including a Jan. 9 rehearsal which involved the entire agency.

During that event, officers were deployed to their inaugural posts in an attempt to familiarize them with their assignments.

“We brought them in and briefed them and walked the real estate with them and did some reassignment deployments,” Rohan said.

Capitol Police officials also produced an instructional video for officers who have not previously attended the inaugural ceremony, as well as printed a miniature operational guide for the event that includes instructions on access and parking for visitors.

Despite many of the new drills, however, Rohan noted that security for the inaugural is not dramatically dissimilar from law enforcement activities during the 2000 event.

“The contingency planning is much more enhanced than last time, but in terms of the nuts and bolts of getting the people in and getting the president up here and getting him sworn in, getting people on the parade route … all that was done last time,” asserted Rohan, who will mark his eighth inaugural since joining the Capitol Police in 1975.

Law enforcement officials instituted significant changes during the 54th inaugural ceremony, including the creation of visitor checkpoints for those viewing the event.

“I don’t remember any easy inaugurations,” Rohan added. “All I remember is extensive planning. The planning evolves with the times, so as the threat environment changes and grows, the planning goes toward it.”

Still, with a force approximately 25 percent larger than any it has used in previous inaugurals — in large part the result of officers hired following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — the Capitol Police will take on an expanded range of duties during the event.

“We have some missions we didn’t have before,” said Rohan, citing the department’s Hazardous Materials Response Team as one example.

In addition, the agency has expanded its Protective Services Bureau and Dignitary Protection Division, as well as its number of rank-and-file officers, Rohan said. “We’ve adapted to the threat environment and [are] taking measures to ensure our protectees are safe.”

Beginning Wednesday, the Capitol Police Department will deploy its specialized units — including its Hazardous Materials Response Team and K-9 officers — to ensure the Congressional campus is “swept and secured,” said Rohan.

“Our sweepers, our bomb guys, our dog guys, will be working well into the night,” he added.

In addition to House and Senate office buildings, which will be open to both visitors and Congressional staff on Thursday, Rohan stated that the law enforcement agency will also assign officers to secure the Capitol Visitor Center, a three-story, 588,000-square-foot subterranean structure currently under construction.

Although the Capitol will remain open to Congressional staff through Wednesday, public access will be limited after 1 p.m.

Entrance to the building will be severely restricted on Thursday, and only those Congressional employees with specially issued inaugural credentials, rather than the standard identification card, will be allowed access to the Capitol.

The Capitol Police also plan to deploy a large number of officers to operate security checkpoints at entrances to House and Senate office buildings Thursday in anticipation of large numbers of visitors picking up inaugural tickets, after such visitors “overwhelmed the buildings” during the 2000 event, Rohan said.

“A lot of the increase [in officers] went to enhancing the screening at the building entrances,” said Rohan, who added that the department is encouraging lawmakers to distribute tickets prior to Thursday.

Although the Capitol grounds will close to traffic at 6 a.m. Thursday, House and Senate parking garages will remain open to permitted vehicles. Congressional law enforcement officials warned Hill staff, however, that intermittent closures should be expected throughout the week.

“There will also be random street closures around the Capitol Complex starting on January 17, to facilitate the completion of Inaugural measures. In addition, other streets along the Mall and the downtown area will be restricted or closed,” Livingood stated in a Jan. 11 memorandum issued to Congressional staff.