Leaders approve National Guard patrols at Capitol
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Concerned that the U.S. Capitol Police force is stretched thin by weeks of heightened security, congressional leaders and the U.S. Capitol Police Board decided Friday that National Guard military police will begin patrolling the Capitol beginning next week, House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Ney, R-Pa., told CNN.
About 100 to 110 uniformed and armed guardsmen, wearing "MP" arm bands, will patrol the perimeter of the Capitol, working three daily shifts of 33 to 35 guardsmen per shift.
"They will not be in the member areas," Ney said explaining that Capitol Police, trained to recognize members of Congress and enforce the unique rules of the Capitol, will remain in charge of security in the areas where members work.
"There won't be Humvees on the plaza" in front of the Capitol, Ney said. But there might be "a couple" of troops seen on the Capitol grounds at any given time, he said.
The assignment is temporary, and leadership will reassess every two weeks if the military patrols are still required, basing their decisions on the changing security climate, Ney said.
Ney said the decision was not based on any new threat to the Capitol.
"We have an obligation to prevent terrorists' attacks on this building, on these buildings, on the members, and the tourists," House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt explained earlier in the day.
The proposal was discussed for weeks but finalized Friday after House Speaker Dennis Hastert met with Republican leaders and security officials. For some, there is an "image problem" with uniformed troops surrounding the Capitol.
"We don't want armed guards in Humvees around the Capitol, but we want to give the police a break," a congressional aide said earlier Friday, describing the delicate nature of the issue the leaders were deciding.
Gephardt said he disagreed that troops create an image problem.
"Look, we all know we're in a new world," he said. "The terrorists would love nothing better than a dramatic show of terrorism here on the symbol of democracy. We have to do everything we need to do to prevent them."
"We're not interested in making this look like an armed compound, but we are interested in making sure that we have the necessary security and that our police have the training and relief they need to do the job," Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott said Thursday.
Right now, there are 1,250 Capitol Police officers. Almost all of them have been working at least 12 hours a day since the September 11 attacks.
Many have worked 16 hours a day and some have pulled double shifts. One officer recently told CNN he had worked 16 hours one day and then returned the next morning for a 10 hour shift.
"We're losing a number of Capitol Police who are going to other law enforcement jurisdictions and operations, in part because of the time commitment here and, in part, because there are a lot of new opportunities, unfortunately, in the security field," Gephardt said.
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