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Troops may help bolster Capitol security

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Authorities at the nation's Capitol building are considering bringing in military troops to supplement U.S. Capitol police officers and enhance security.

According to Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols, the troops would be used to relieve officers now working extremely long hours. It would also allow the force to pull some officers off their normal posts and send them to "specialized training" related to enhanced security efforts.

The possiblity of using military manpower was first reported in Thursday's edition of Roll Call newspaper.

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Right now, there are 1,250 Capitol Police officers. Almost all of them have been working at least 12 hours a day since the September 11 attacks. Many are working 16 hours and day and some are pulling double shifts. One officer told CNN he had worked 16 hours on Wednesday and then returned Thursday morning for a 10-hour shift.

"If this option is exercised it would be temporary," Nichols said. "It would be to supplement the work of Capitol Police."

Nichols said authorities were "considering Department of Defense support." That means the troops involved could be National Guard troops or they could be regular Army troops or from another branch of the military.

It is not clear what kind of weapons the military troops would carry if their presence were requested, but they would be armed. U.S. Capitol Police carry 40-caliber semi-automatic pistols, called Glock 22s.

On Thursday, Capitol Police also began another change to security around the U.S. Capitol. A 40-city block area in the nation's capital is now off-limits to commercial, agricultural and recreational vehicles.

The ban will be put into full effect on Friday, and police are using Thursday to inform drivers of the ban and suggest alternate routes.

Where it wouldn't disrupt traffic, some trucks were being rerouted on Thursday morning, but others were allowed into the new security area.

The perimeter is bordered by 2nd Street on the east, 3rd Street on the west, Massachusetts Avenue on the north and D Street on the south. Included in that area are the U.S. Capitol, all of the House and Senate office buildings, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and part of the National Mall. The White House is not inside the perimeter, and the Department of Labor is just outside it.

Also inside that area are two major arteries that see heavy truck traffic daily: Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue.

The ban includes any vehicle over one-and-a-quarter tons. Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said that would be equivalent to the size of a Fed-Ex delivery truck.

But, he said, it doesn't affect Tour Mobiles, a train-like service that takes tourists around the capital. The city's Metro buses also are not affected by the ban, but officials have not yet decided if tour buses will come under the new restrictions.

Nichols said authorities are working to ensure that tourists still have full access to the nation's Capitol and that the complex will not become "a fortress."

Nichols said the ban was not prompted by any specific threat, but is a preventative measure. He said the closures are indefinite, and that authorities would re-evaluate the situation as needed.


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