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Capitol Police, Local Officers Bolster Security

The Capitol Police may add a few more officers at this week’s Republican National Convention to protect Members as they travel around the Twin Cities.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said a week of avoiding protests and closed roads in Denver could convince Capitol Police officials that about a half-dozen more officers are needed.

“It works, but it’s always a little bit better to have a few assets and reserves so we can rotate people,” he said. “At these events, you also have a lot of the former presidents and sitting presidents and that prevents access.”

Early reports suggest that tens of thousands of protesters might be in St. Paul, Minn., this week, Gainer said — a stark contrast to the relatively small crowds in Denver. But over the years, he said, police have learned to handle such events, and he noted that protesters and city officials now often negotiate beforehand.

“The police have made leaps and bounds in our understanding of what’s tolerable and crowd control,” he said.

About 3,500 police officers will be at this week’s convention, and St. Paul had to bring in officers from police departments all over the state and from nearby states such as Wisconsin and Illinois.

Some small departments gave up half of their 10- or 15-member forces to help the 600-member St. Paul department, St. Paul Police Commander Doug Holtz said.

“This is the biggest thing we’ll probably ever see in St. Paul,” he said. “Everybody is doing two jobs.”

With the extra manpower, St. Paul will have more police on foot throughout the entire city — not just around the Xcel Energy Center — than it does normally. Officers received training in a slew of subjects, from crowd control to local laws.

Overtime alone will cost about $34 million, while training, equipment, travel and other needs will cost about $16 million. It is being paid for through a $50 million grant from the Justice Department. (The same grant went to Denver for last week’s Democratic National Convention.)

For this week’s convention, Secret Service is ultimately in charge, organizing dozens of local, state and federal agencies. The security setup will be much the same as the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where security perimeters circled the Pepsi Center and officials set up a demonstration area for protesters.

And like protest groups in Denver, several in St. Paul complained of the plans for demonstrations. One group — the Coalition to March the RNC — objected to a permit that had them marching on the Xcel Center before the delegates are scheduled to arrive. A federal judge upheld the city’s plans.

Protests were relatively quiet in Denver and partly stymied by a security perimeter that closed off the surrounding streets. But the area around the Xcel Center in St. Paul is more dense and protesters will be able to march right up to the center itself.

Despite the big numbers expected, Gainer said that police will probably try to keep arrests to a minimum and that people are often able to talk their way out of it.

“You’ve got to believe that police in general don’t like locking people up,” he said.

The local police department is in the middle of a contract dispute with the city. Recently elected St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is aiming to change the department’s salaries, upsetting the union, which argues that any decrease will chase away officers.

In the weeks leading up to the convention, the St. Paul Police Federation bought ads to highlight the issue that otherwise wouldn’t be covered by out-of-state media.

The dispute hurts morale, union spokesman Michael Shannon said, but the officers will still do their job.

“They’re going to do their job, they’re going to be professional, they’re going to do their best because that’s the kind of guys they are,” he said.