Security Measures Could Not Stop Capitol Hill Shooting
Throughout its history, the nation's capitol has not been immune to violence
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 24) -- How could someone make their way into the U.S. Capitol building with a gun and open fire?
In Friday's incident, which left two police officers dead and one tourist and the gunman injured, security measures in place seemed to work, but were not enough.
The gunman entered Capitol Hill through an entrance, known as the Documents Door, that is restricted to members, staff, press and visitors on official business. As the suspect passed through the metal detector with his gun the alarms did go off, and then the gunman ran into the building and immediately opened fire.
U.S. Capitol police officers pursued the suspect, who was eventually apprehended in the nearby office of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
The slain officers are being praised for their bravery and many lawmaker have publically praised the police force for effectively serving their purpose as the Capitol's last line of defense.
Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.) said the fault was not with security or the posted officers. "This was an individual determined to blast his way into the Capitol," Thomas said, pledging that the Capitol will remain open to the public.
In a building often referred to as "The People's House," security can be difficult. Safety measures must take into account the duality of the Capitol as one of the nation's most important symbols and the place of legislative business.
Despite the necessarily strict security, it has long been a source of pride that the building is accessible to constituents who are visiting their representatives or tourists viewing the vast number of art treasures housed there.
Logistically, securing such a huge complex is also a nightmare. The U.S. Capitol police force of about 1,300 must cover a five-level space that totals 16.5 acres. There are many elevators and stairwells as well as subterranean tunnels and the Capitol Hill subway system.
Within minutes of the shooting, Capitol guards initiated a methodical room-to-room sweep of the entire building to determine if anybody else was involved in the attack. They would have encountered approximately 540 rooms devoted to offices, committee rooms, restaurants and storage. The building has 658 windows and 850 doorways.
The building was quickly locked down with all elevators sealed. CNN's Candy Crowley, who was inside the Capitol when the shooting erupted, said her crew came across guards at every stairwell they attempted to use.
The U.S. Capitol Police is the private security detail of Congress. They are responsible for security inside the Capitol buildings and the surrounding grounds.
Capitol has not been immune to violence
Friday's violence was the first shooting at the Capitol since March 1, 1954, when three Puerto Rican nationalists fired about 30 shots from the House visitors' gallery and wounded five congressmen.
The most recent incident had been a nighttime bombing outside one of the Capitol cloakrooms on Nov. 7, 1983. There were no injuries in the attack. A group expressing solidarity with Lebanon and Grenada took responsibility.
The 1983 attack led to the existing tight security both inside and outside the building.
In the aftermath, visitor access was limited to four to six main entryways and metal detectors were installed at all entrances. Restrictions were also placed on House and Senate gallery access to screened people and in many areas of the building, approved people -- such as Hill staffers, lobbyists and journalists -- must now wear identification badges.
Parking and traffic flow were also restricted; cars cannot be driven up to the east plaza of the complex. But more extreme suggestions, such as erecting a big fence around the whole complex, were rejected.
Many of the current security measures still in place were first instituted in 1971 after a bomb exploded in the men's room on the Senate side of the building. At that time X-ray machines at 10 entrances and an overall electronic building surveillance system were first installed.