Missouri Capitol boosts security as lawmakers cite concerns

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.

With images of insurrection in the U.S. Capitol still fresh, and the FBI warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals, Missouri lawmakers on Tuesday expressed concern that statehouse security needs to be improved.

Rep. Ron Hicks, R-St. Charles County, said issues with Missouri Capitol security have existed for years, but those concerns gained new urgency following riots in the halls of Congress last week that have so far resulted in at least five deaths.

“We are trying to build up security in the building,” Hicks said. “Our Capitol Police, they are a 34-unit team. They try to do the best that they can. But they are 34 members that do not have the equipment they need to do what needs to be done in this building.”

An internal FBI bulletin warned that the nationwide protests may start later this week and extend through President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Investigators believe some of the people are members of extremist groups.

According to a memo from Missouri Senate Administrator Patrick Baker obtained by The Independent, Capitol Police have requested assistance from several agencies due to recent events throughout the country.

“You will see additional officers in the Capitol building from the Highway Patrol, Department of Natural Resources and other agencies throughout the coming weeks,” Baker said in the memo to lawmakers and staff.

Hicks has for several years sponsored legislation that would create a Capitol Police Board consisting of 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. The board would oversee the Capitol Police and have authority to hire a chief and establish its rules and regulations.

The Capitol Police are currently governed by the Department of Public Safety, an agency in Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s executive branch.

Hicks’ legislation has been approved by the House for several years in a row only to die in the Senate. In arguing to make the change during debate last year, Hicks said that under the current setup, the chief of the Capitol Police “has to answer to the director of the Department of Public Safety, who answers to the governor.”

“We have a police department that works for the governor,” Hicks said last February. “It does not work for the people.”

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Hicks’ proposal.

Asked Monday after his inauguration about potential threats, Parson said precautions are being taken.

“I think our state’s a little different compared to a lot of other states,” he said, “where you’re seeing some of these, maybe some of these issues coming.”

House Majority Leader Dean Plocher, R-Town and Country, said Tuesday that on the issue of Capitol security, the House has tried to “work with the executive branch, and that has occurred over several years.”

He said when the governor and his security detail visit the third floor of the Capitol, where the House and Senate chambers are located, “I feel quite safe. But when the executive branch is not on the third floor, we kind of are left in the dark.”

The House hopes, Plocher said, that it can have a “good symbiotic relationship with the executive branch on how we are able to secure our persons on the (House) floor, across the hall on the other side of the building in the Senate, our families, guests and everything else. And we’re going to start addressing that ourselves as we need to.”

Hicks sad improving Capitol security should be a bipartisan effort.

“This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue,” he said. “I don’t know if this is the only thing that we might work together on all year. But I can tell you if it is, it’s the one thing that will save lives.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a public charity. It can be found at missouriindependent.com.

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