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National Guard take up posts around Capitol

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the first time in more than 30 years, members of the District of Columbia National Guard took up positions around the U.S. Capitol Friday as special police officers to assist an overworked Capitol police.

The Guard members are stationed at 10 posts, guarding the perimeter of Capitol Hill, according to District National Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Phyllis Phipps-Barnes.

D.C. Metropolitan Police swore in the Guard members Friday morning and about 15 of the new officers began their duties Friday night.

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An hour delay in Friday's ceremony followed another postponement Thursday, due to concerns over the deputization process.

Thursday, U.S. Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said there were reservations about liability issues if the National Guard were deputized to perform arrest functions. Since the Capitol Police do not have the authority to deputize, that responsibility and any ensuing liability would fall to the D.C. Metropolitan Police.

However, the office of Mayor Anthony Williams agreed that the D.C. Metropolitan Police could deputize approximately 70 Guard members for 14 days while liability issues are resolved.

"People need to understand that National Guard members are not trained police officers and they don't instantly become trained police officers," Williams' spokesman, Tony Bullock, told CNN. "They are not familiar with arrest procedures, weapons training or equipment typically used by police, so we are legitimately concerned about liability. However, the mayor made the decision to accommodate the request since Congress asked for it."

Bullock expected the liability issue to be resolved within the next five to 10 days either through training or seeking some "some sort of indemnification from the federal government that would hold the district harmless in the event that something should happen," he said.

National Guard Capt. Sheldon Smith said the troops are not totally without appropriate training.

"A lot of these men and women were deployed to Desert Storm, some deployed to Germany, to support operation Joint Endeavour," Smith said. "These men and women have law enforcement training; they performed their duties in Panama, Germany, Italy, Honduras and many other places."

The D.C. National Guard, nicknamed the Capital Guardians, will have the authority to carry guns and make arrests.

Nichols said 100 members of the National Guard will be deployed for 90 days so that Capitol police officers, who have been working 12-hour days, six days a week since September 11 can take time off and get anti-terrorism training.

The National Guard will help police secure the restricted area around the Capitol, which now extends about three blocks. One of their main jobs will be to check trucks, which are prohibited from approaching the Capitol if their weight exceeds 1.5 tons.

They will wear the battle dress uniforms, something some lawmakers were concerned about because of the blatant images of the military guarding Congress.

The soldiers will not carry assault weapons. Instead, they will have 9 mm sidearms, like the Capitol police.

A National Guard presence on Capitol Hill was approved by congressional leaders and the Capitol police board a few weeks ago, but the "fine points," including the size of the force, took time to be worked out, Nichols said.

Nichols said this will be the first time since the 1968 Washington riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. that the National Guard has helped protect the Capitol. They were also present, he said, during the War of 1812, the Civil War and World War I.

- CNN Washington producers Dana Bash and Ted Barrett contributed to this report


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