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Colorado governor seeks funding to increase capitol security

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Citing a “significant” increase in threats to the Colorado State Capitol complex in recent years, Gov. Jared Polis is asking the state legislature to approve $4.5 million in new spending on Capitol security — including a 73% increase in personnel.

Colorado State Patrol, the police force at the Capitol, has 40 full-time staff members assigned to security at the Capitol complex, which covers a 2.6 million-square-foot area,  including the Capitol building, surrounding government buildings, park space and parking facilities. At any given time about 20 of those staffers are on duty.

Because of “protests, civil unrest and threats towards Capitol Complex occupants,” Polis and Department of Public Safety Director Stan Hilkey argued in a budget brief, another 29 full-time staffers are needed. More than half of those staffers would be troopers, while the rest would be split doing security, administration and communications work.

The budgeting process for the 2022-23 fiscal year — fiscal years start over in July — is just now kicking off, and already some lawmakers seem skeptical.

“In regards to the Colorado State Patrol, you know, I would argue that that is a safe building,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat whose pickup truck was destroyed outside the Capitol last year as protesters swarmed the area after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd.

“I’m aware of instances — the State Patrol always notifies me of every incident. Can be as minimal as a broken window or attempted entry or a member being harassed on the street. … I feel we currently have the support that we need.”

Rep. Kim Ransom, a Douglas County Republican who sits on the Joint Budget Committee, said at a committee hearing Tuesday that she believes the Capitol complex has been under uniquely high pressure lately and so bringing security staffing “up to an artificial bump” in the long term may not make sense.

The six-member budget committee is beginning to workshop the budget, expected to reach a record $40 billion in 2022-23. In the spring the entire legislature will weigh in, eventually sending Polis a budget to sign into law.

The governor is not only seeking extra staff to patrol the Capitol. Of the 29 new staffers he proposes, two would go to his own security detail. That unit, as with others assigned to the Capitol complex, has been saddled with high overtime work, Polis and Hilkey wrote in their brief.

The proposal also calls for much greater security at the Legislative Services Building south of the Capitol at 200 East 14th Ave. That’s where several House and Senate committees, plus the Joint Budget Committee, conduct hearings. Some lawmakers also have offices in that building. And unlike the Capitol, people entering are not screened. Polis and Hilkey say the building needs eight security guards and an x-ray machine.

“I’m very concerned that we don’t have the security we should have in this building,” Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat and Joint Budget Committee member, said at Tuesday’s hearing.

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