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U.S. Capitol needs permanent fencing around complex after deadly riot, acting chief says

The move would be a striking shift from the accessibility many Americans have enjoyed over the years visiting the grounds of "The People's House."
Image: US Capitol fence, dawn
Metal security fencing around the U.S. Capitol at dawn on Jan. 8, 2021.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The acting chief of U.S. Capitol Police called for permanent fencing around the Capitol building days after she said that the department "failed" in its efforts to protect the sprawling complex on Jan. 6 when pro-Trump rioters stormed the building.

“In light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol," Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement.

The move would be a striking shift from the accessibility many Americans have enjoyed over the years visiting the grounds of "The People's House," such as sitting on the lawn in front of the building, accessing the trails and green spaces around the building and field trips to the steps of the Capitol by schoolchildren.

Pittman, who became acting chief after former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund resigned amid criticism of the department's response to the rioters, said that security experts have long argued — even prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — that more needed to be done to protect the complex.

"In fact, a 2006 security assessment specifically recommended the installation of a permanent perimeter fence around the Capitol," she said in her statement.

Since the Jan. 6 attack, which resulted in the death of five people, including a Capitol Police officer, the agency "has hardened the physical security across the Capitol Complex in order to further protect the Congress," Pittman said. More than 100 people are facing federal charges in connection to the unrest.

Pittman said her agency has done a physical security assessment of the entire complete and welcomes further review of security measures, such as the Inspector General's assessment.

"In the end, we all have the same goal — to prevent what occurred on January 6 from ever happening again," she said. “I look forward to working with Congress on identifying the security improvements necessary to ensure the safety and security of the Congress and the U.S. Capitol.”

However, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, said Thursday in a series of tweets that although extra security measures are warranted due to current threats, she opposes permanent fencing around the Capitol.

"Based on conversations with federal partners, there are some potentially volatile events upcoming that will require extra security. Fencing and the presence of troops will be a part of that. But we will not accept extra troops or permanent fencing as a long-term fixture in DC," she said.

"When the time is right, the fencing around the White House and U.S. Capitol, just like the plywood we’ve seen on our businesses for too long, will be taken down," she said.