U.S. Capitol police head calls for permanent fence, more security

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday urged U.S. lawmakers to add permanent fencing and back-up security staff at the Capitol building after a deadly Jan. 6 attack.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers would also probably need more funding for security as the “the enemy is within” the House, following a warning by the Department of Homeland Security of heightened threats.

The Senate is preparing to conduct its second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection in a fiery speech Jan. 6 before hundreds of his supporters stormed the seat of Congress in a bid to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. Five people, including a police officer, died as a result of the violence.

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman noted a 2006 security assessment specifically recommended the installation of a permanent perimeter fence around the Capitol.

“I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol,” Pittman said.

But Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told CNN it was “premature to determine what are the appropriate steps that need to be taken to better secure the Capitol.”

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote on Twitter that “we will not accept extra troops or permanent fencing as a long-term fixture in DC,” but said “potentially volatile events” would require temporary extra security.

The Department of Homeland Security did not cite specific threats in its bulletin, which was issued Wednesday, but said some “domestic violent extremists” may feel emboldened by the Capitol rampage.

“We will probably need a supplemental for more security for members, when the enemy is within the House of Representatives,” Pelosi said.

Asked what she meant when referring to the “enemy within,” Pelosi said: “It means we have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and who have threatened violence against other members of Congress.”

More than 30 lawmakers signed a letter on Thursday calling for greater protection in their districts, noting that threats against members of Congress spiked to 4,894 in 2018 from 902 in 2016.

While top members of Congress have security details, most lawmakers do not.

Most changes members sought, including allowing them more flexibility in using their office budgets to cover security expenses, had already been made, Pelosi said. She said that more probably needed to be done.

Ahead of Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, 8-foot-high (2.4 m high) fencing went up around the Capitol building and more than 20,000 National Guard troops descended on Washington. Thousands of the troops are expected to stay in the capital through March.

Some lawmakers have bristled under the increased security measures, such as a metal detector put in place for lawmakers to go through on the House floor. Last week, Republican lawmaker Andy Harris was found carrying a concealed gun while trying to enter the House floor.

Reporting by Makini Brice, David Shepardson, Doina Chiacu and David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and Rosalba O’Brien