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Barricades are back on Capitol Hill

Less than a week after the terrorist threat was lowered to Code Yellow, checkpoints returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The vehicle checkpoints will appear on a random basis indefinitely, Capitol Police said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Less than a week after the terrorist threat was lowered to Code Yellow, checkpoints popped up again on Capitol Hill Tuesday. U.S. Capitol Police said while there are no new threats, the Capitol is always considered at risk — and that the vehicle checkpoints will appear on a random basis indefinitely.

The move is “outrageous” as far as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., is concerned. She called it a “cosmetic and primitive” form of security that accomplishes nothing.

“I don’t know anybody here who feels safer because of checkpoints that simply usher people through,” said Norton, who later sent a letter of complaint to U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer.

All vehicles are being stopped at the checkpoints on Constitution and Independence avenues. Some are being fully inspected, while others get a quick glance. The security measure was first implemented in August when the alert level went up to Orange.

Though Gainer would not take questions on the change Tuesday, he has said in the past that the checkpoints would be randomly reinstituted because police don’t want to be predictable for potential terrorists.

“We know that the Capitol continues to be a target,” but there has not been a specific threat, Capitol Police spokesman Michael Lauer said Tuesday. “We have implemented these checkpoints on a random basis as a deterrent to any possible threat.”

For one, a ‘red light’ for tourists
But Norton said checkpoints are a drastic measure that deters tourists from the nation’s capital.

“It’s like a red light saying ‘stay away,’” Norton said, adding that determined terrorists would simply find another way to the Capitol.

Norton plans to call for a congressional hearing on the matter, but she suspects the checkpoints were reinstated because Congress is back in town for a session this week.

“We want to understand that this really protects us,” Norton said. “So far we see no relationship between our protection and these checkpoints.”

‘24-7 is questionable’
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, said he is working to convene a working group of local and federal officials to examine how such security measures affect tourism, traffic and planning in the District of Columbia. Ney, chairman of the House Administration Committee — which oversees the Capitol Police — said he wasn’t surprised by the return of barricades and checkpoints outside his office.

“Doing them is better than not, but again, having them 24-7 is questionable,” Ney said.

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams was notified Monday evening that the checkpoints would return, but city officials weren’t consulted, spokeswoman Sharon Gang said.

“He’s extremely disappointed that the Capitol Police felt compelled to reinstate the checkpoints,” Gang said. “And while he understands the need for security, there’s also a need to keep our city open for people who live here, for people who visit here and for people who work here.”

72-hour weeks for some officers
Lauer said some officers are back on 12-hour shifts, six days a week to cover the extra work.

“I don’t know why they took them down to put them back up,” D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey told The Associated Press in a phone interview from an International Association of Chiefs of Police event in Los Angeles. “They’re responsible for securing the Capitol, and I’m not going to challenge the chief’s assessment of the situation there.

“My only concern is the consequence it has on the rest of the city in terms of traffic and so forth.”