Riots in Congress bring state Capitol security concerns into focus
Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield. (Capitol News Illinois file photo)
Senate to meet at Statehouse, House at convention center
By SARAH MANSUR
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Just two days after hundreds of rioters broke through police barricades and vandalized the halls of Congress, Illinois lawmakers will return to the state’s seat of government for a lame duck session.
The security presence at the Capitol, where the state Senate will convene, and the Bank of Springfield Center, where the House of Representatives will meet, has come under renewed focus.
The Illinois State Police has increased security around the state Capitol and the Bank of Springfield Center, at Gov. JB Pritzker’s request, and will be coordinating efforts with the Secretary of State police and the Springfield Police Department, an ISP spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement Thursday.
“The ISP will have all resources at its disposal to assure the safety of the participants and protect the integrity of the session. To ensure security, we cannot discuss protocols or manpower associated with this effort,” the ISP spokesperson wrote.
In a statement Wednesday evening calling for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, Gov. JB Pritzker said he asked the Illinois State Police and other law enforcement to “redeploy to heighten their presence at government buildings and the Capitol in Springfield” amid protests Wednesday.
Pritzker’s spokesperson did not respond to a question Thursday about whether the governor plans to deploy the Illinois National Guard at the Statehouse or other government offices for the legislative session.
The governor’s statement Wednesday came as a much smaller group of demonstrators gathered outside the Illinois Capitol to protest the election certification of President-elect Joe Biden.
There were no arrests or incidents reported at the Illinois protest, according to Henry Haupt, a spokesperson for the Illinois Secretary of State, who estimated it was attended by 40 to 50 people.
The Secretary of State Capitol Police force is assigned to the nine buildings comprising the State Capitol Complex. Security at the Bank of Springfield Center falls under the purview of the Illinois State Police, said Haupt.
Steve Brown, spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan, declined to comment on security procedures at the Bank of Springfield or discussions among House leadership for additional security.
“I think there is adequate security, as there was in May (during the last legislative session),” Brown said on Thursday. “If you remember, visualizing the scene, (security) was pretty comprehensive from what could be seen, and there were additional layers, not necessarily visible to the general public.”
John Patterson, spokesperson for Senate President Don Harmon, said in an email that there are ongoing conversations with the Secretary of State's Office to address any questions or concerns and reassure every one of the buildings’ security in advance of the Senate session.
Haupt said he couldn’t comment on staffing levels or security protocols at the Capitol Complex but said the Secretary of State Capitol Police are working with the Illinois State Police and other law enforcement entities to ensure the Complex and surrounding area remains safe.
“Although the Capitol building is closed due to the pandemic, I think it's important to highlight that the entry points are nonetheless manned by the Capitol Police,” he said.
Every entry point at the Capitol Complex is staffed with at least one armed Capitol Police officer, Haupt said.
“But the point the Capitol Police has made to me numerous times is, we're going to be vigilant even in quiet times because you can't anticipate something. So you have to be vigilant and on alert,” he said.
The Secretary of State Capitol Police force was established by the Illinois General Assembly after a gunman fatally shot state Capitol security guard Bill Wozniak in September 2004.
When the shooting took place, the General Assembly was not in session.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Illinois State Police.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.