Colorado Capitol could get about $10 million in security enhancements

Colorado lawmakers are eyeing about $10 million in security enhancements to the Capitol building in Denver, the chair of the Capitol Building Advisory Committee said Thursday.

Among the possible changes to the Capitol grounds are new security cameras, bollards, fortified doors, bulletproof windows, fencing at Lincoln Park just to the west of the Capitol and various cosmetic alterations meant to improve sightlines for people and machines that perform surveillance.

The proposed changes have been the subject of talks among lawmakers and state officials for months, dating back to the Black Lives Matter protests in late spring and summer on and around the Capitol grounds. Many discussions about these changes have taken place in executive sessions, and lawmakers and state officials have been hesitant to speak openly about new security measures.

Most of the changes are yet to be formally approved, and so the vast majority of security enhancements resulting from the springtime protests will not be visible when the state legislature convenes next week to kick off its 2021 session.

“It’s close to $10 million for everything that’s being requested. Most of it will happen,” said state Rep. Susan Lontine, a Denver Democrat who chairs the building’s advisory committee.

Several lawmakers said Thursday that they did not know when, exactly, the relevant committees of the legislature would look to formally approve this spending. If and when such approval is given, the state government will seek to keep certain details of the security enhancement project confidential — though total spending figures, absent specific line items, will be visible in state budget documents.

Asked about specific changes, Lontine said, “They don’t want it to be out there, and that’s for security reasons.”

State Rep. Edie Hooton, a Boulder Democrat who chairs the Capitol Development Committee, which is also kept apprised of this project, said the forthcoming changes are a “recognition that the building needs to be more secure, but also needs to be open and accessible to the public, and not feel like a fortress.”

While these conversations began months ago, the mob takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday by supporters of President Donald Trump, during which at least four people died, has given officials new reason to consider the security of a building that, starting Wednesday, will reopen for state government business. The legislature plans only to meet for three days, before taking a coronavirus-related break until at least mid-February.

Master Trooper Gary Cutler of the Colorado State Patrol, the law enforcement agency at the Capitol, said he could neither confirm nor deny that there will be a stronger police presence than usual next week when lawmakers return to Denver.

“We don’t talk about any of our security measures on that,” he said, adding, “It’s not that we’re not allowed to, it’s just that we don’t talk about any of our security measurements.”

Cutler also said, “The Colorado State Patrol is appreciative of the vast majority of Coloradans peacefully expressing their First Amendment rights. We ask that people continue to remain respectful and peaceful during these times. The Colorado State Patrol is responsible for the protection of the Capitol building and we are prepared to respond with appropriate enforcement as necessary.”

State Rep. Alec Garnett, the incoming speaker of the state House of Representatives, said he spoke to the State Patrol following Wednesday’s violence in Washington.

“I have full confidence in State Patrol’s ability,” he said. “They’ve spent a lot of time preparing and communicating.”

Though the Capitol building was vandalized in the spring, mostly with spray paint, it was never breached in any way remotely comparable to what unfolded at the U.S. Capitol. But state capitol buildings, including those in Oregon and Michigan, have come under siege recently, and so Colorado officials say they’re staying vigilant.

“The Capitol has certainly been a place where there have been a lot of events, protests, demonstrations over the past year,” Garnett said. “I’m just trying to make sure that we can plan for and be ready to go into session next week.”

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