HARTFORD, CT — State officials vouched Thursday for the security of the Connecticut State Capitol complex a day after a violent mob breached and laid siege to the U.S. Capitol Building as Congress worked to certify the 2020 election results.
The world watched as rioters supporting President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. The police force there was quickly overwhelmed. The mob broke through glass and breached the building. Members of Congress sheltered in place and were later evacuated. A woman was shot and died in the chaos.
Thursday morning senior staff from both of Connecticut’s legislative majority caucuses were on a security call with the chief of the state Capitol Police and legislative management staff. In interviews, House Speaker Matt Ritter and Senate President Martin Looney both said they feel secure in Connecticut’s Capitol Building.
Watching the events in Washington from Connecticut, Looney said he was “riveted and appalled” by what he saw play out in the nation’s capitol.
“It was like watching a nightmare. It seemed to me the Capitol police were totally unprepared for what happened,” he said. By contrast, Looney said he had confidence in the Connecticut Capitol Police and the security of the complex in Harford.
“No one can ever foresee everything that might happen but to the extent that you can be prepared I think we are. I think we’re sensitive to it. We know that demonstrations occur. I think that Chief [Luiz] Casanova is an innovative police leader who anticipates problems and tries to find ways to deal with them and counteract them and not be caught off guard,” Looney said.
Neither legislative leader was immediately advocating additional security protocols. Both said they would wait for recommendations from the Capitol police chief. Looney said he would be open to expanding the police force if the chief recommended it.
There are currently 33 officers on the force and Hartford Police and State Police can assist with any large events or protests planned for the outside of the Capitol.
The events Wednesday reinforce security measures already taken by the legislature at the request of the Capitol police. In 2014, police installed metal detectors at the entry and exit points of the complex. The move was controversial with some lawmakers who have proposed removing them. Ritter said he would not entertain legislation to eliminate the security measures.
Ritter said Connecticut leaders would continue to try to find a balance between safety and public access in the building, which is currently closed to the public as a result of the pandemic. He said Wednesday’s riot makes public access harder.
“That’s the damage of things like yesterday. Beyond the death and the violence and the illegal acts, the other harm on top of that is the reaction by capitols and city halls across the country now, saying ‘Look, we can’t safely legislate anymore.’ That means closing doors, barricades, less access to the capitol buildings that you so want to advocate in,” he said.
Officer Scott Driscoll, spokesman for the Capitol Police, said the department was confident in the security protocols they had in place. He said their officers were trained to handle large demonstrations.
“Anything could happen and you prepare as much as possible but we at the State Capitol Police feel very confident that this is a safe complex, a safe area and we feel comfortable and confident in our ability to handle situations,” Driscoll said.
Connecticut officials managed their own security concerns Wednesday as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced some of the Opening Day ceremonies for the 2021 legislative session outside. As House and Senate members were being sworn in outside the Capitol Building, protesters gathered nearby.
Hundreds of residents turned out to protest the election results, school vaccination requirements and Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders in response to the pandemic.
Legislative leaders anticipated the protests and their senior staff made preparations with the Capitol police, Looney said. During the ceremonies police enforced a perimeter and kept the demonstrators at a distance behind temporary metal barriers.
Officers from the Hartford Police Department were also initially on hand Wednesday to assist Capitol police. However, the Hartford officers were drawn away from the Capitol following a police-involved shooting on Enfield Street in Hartford.
“Hartford had to deal with their situation. They were here for assistance if we needed them. It was a plan we had in place because of Opening Day being outside,” Driscoll said “Their presence was there because it was part of the plan, but once they got pulled to their own thing, we still had plenty of coverage and everything went smoothly.”
Capitol police charged one protester with breach of peace Wednesday but the protests were otherwise restrained.
There were reports of rallies and protests at state houses and government buildings around the country Wednesday. On Thursday, Michigan officials briefly closed their state Capitol to lawmakers in response to a bomb threat, the Detroit Free Press reported.
In Connecticut, Driscoll said the state Capitol police had not observed an uptick in threats or security issues during the past few months.