Panel urges more cops in Capitol area

  • Article by: JIM RAGSDALE
  • Star Tribune
  • December 17, 2012 - 8:45 PM

A state advisory committee has recommended additional security officers, but no weapons screening, at the state Capitol and its campus of government buildings.

The Advisory Committee on Capitol Area Security, chaired by Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, edited and approved its report Monday. The action was part of a months-long review of Capitol security and was not related to recent gun violence around the nation.

The report recommends increasing the number of state troopers assigned to the Capitol and nearby buildings from two to 12, and the number of Capitol Security officers from 40 to 67. That request to the 2013 Legislature will be finalized when the committee meets again in January.

The rotunda entrance to the Capitol is open to the public, but other entries have locked doors with key-card electronic access, and there are video surveillance cameras throughout the Capitol area. There is no regular weapons screening, such as is in place at the courthouses in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

Prettner Solon said the issue came up before the committee, but the group chose not to require regular screening. She did say the committee wants the buildings to have power outlets at the entrances "in case we need to add additional security if there were a threat."

That way, she said, "there could be steps up in security rather than the constant level of safety measures that may not be necessary all the time."

Traditionally, discussion of weapons screening has been opposed by those who want to keep the Capitol visitor-friendly, as befits "the people's house." Prettner Solon said the committee discussed how weapons screening "might conflict with the desire to have the openness to the Capitol."

Gov. Mark Dayton said he is open to tougher Capitol security but doesn't want the building to be unwelcoming. He said he doesn't believe there is much Capitol security can do to deter a sophisticated criminal bent on doing harm.

The former U.S. senator said he thought about U.S. Capitol security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and how someone could sneak a weapon through, even with beefed-up security measures. "It wouldn't be that difficult for some kind of sophisticated operative to do that," he said.

"You do the best you can," Dayton said. "But I don't believe we can, and even should, bar the public from accessing their Capitol."

A 2009 report by the Minnesota Legislative Auditor said about half the states did not have metal detectors at their Capitol buildings at that time.

The Capitol area includes 17 buildings and 32 parking facilities spread over 140 acres in downtown St. Paul. The report said the 40 security officers work both at fixed posts in selected buildings and patrol on foot, bicycle and in squad cars. The troopers are responsible for command and law enforcement operations. Adding extra troopers would ensure there is at least one trooper on duty at all times.

The report states that once the light-rail line is finished, pedestrian traffic in the Capitol area is expected to increase, "and additional security and law enforcement challenges will exist."

Staff Writer Baird Helgeson contributed to this report. Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042#

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