WRAL Investigates

Lawmakers' security expands as Capitol Police cut

Posted July 22, 2011 5:47 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2011 11:28 p.m. EDT

— The state budget that took effect this month included cuts to programs from education to social services.

The State Capitol Police, for example, saw its budget reduced by $2 million, which forced the elimination of 40 positions, Chief Scott Hunter said Friday. The force provides security for most state government buildings in downtown Raleigh, including museums that teem with students and other visitors.

"After 5 p.m., there are no State Capitol Police officers patrolling state property in cars, checking property for security and safety," Hunter said of the impact of the cuts. "It's not a comfortable feeling."

Yet, lawmakers added $3 million to their own budget to beef up security at the General Assembly.

"It's misleading, and it's also unwise," Sen. Dan Blue said of the shift in funding.

Blue, D-Wake, who voted against the budget, said the state should protect all government workers and not place a priority on lawmakers.

"I was more interested in doing those essential things instead of setting up a reserve to protect legislative leaders," he said.

Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, said recent protests that interrupted House proceedings reinforce the need for upgraded security to protect lawmakers, staff and visitors alike.

"If you compare our building to other government buildings around, where they have a photo identification system, take your picture, put it on a sticker (and) visitors wear a badge, we don't have that here," Brock said.

Observers note that the legislative complex in Raleigh is more open and accessible to the public than legislative buildings in most other states.

The security force for the General Assembly includes 21 people, while the State Capitol Police now has 49 officers and staff.

Security upgrades at the General Assembly are still being worked out, but Brock said they will likely include metal detectors and restricted access at entrances to the legislative buildings. Improved security technology behind the scenes also should be in place by next spring, he said.

"The world we know has changed, and we've got to make the proper changes for protection," he said.