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Capitol Expecting ‘Mass of Humanity’ for Pope Visit

Larkin, left, said he has experience protecting the pope. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Larkin, left, said he has experience protecting the pope. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The officials in charge of Capitol security are preparing for Pope Francis’ address to Congress in September, and the masses of people that are expected to descend upon the District of Columbia to get a glimpse of the leader of the Catholic Church.  

“The papal visit will be significant in planning and scope. Almost similar, literally, to an inauguration. But perhaps even surpassing that,” Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine said Thursday at a Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. “We anticipate very, very large crowds all during that day, much earlier than even before the Pope coming to the Capitol, lining all of the streets. It’s a huge and very significant event.” Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin, a former Secret Service agent , said he has experience with papal visits and he strained to find a comparison to describe the scores of people who turn out for such an event, but did say it is comparable to an inauguration. In 2013, an estimated 1 million people turned out for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.  

“I’ve been involved in a number of papal events and have protected a number of popes and it is unlike other [events] — the closest comparison would be an inaugural, but this would go over and above an inaugural,” Larkin said. He went on to emphasize that the visit will require coordination across numerous security agencies.  

“The fact is, no one police department in D.C. can lift the strain of this visit alone. So it really requires a significant mutual aid effort that not only involves the departments here in the District of Columbia but also involves outside resources,” Larkin said. “And all those resources need to be coordinated, need to be supported in order to address what we fully expect to be a mass of humanity that will show up for this event.”  

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, the panel’s ranking member, asked Dine, Larkin and Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams about the visit while examining their agencies’ 2016 budget requests. Schatz was wondering if the visit would be a blow to their budgets.  

Both Dine and Larkin noted visits that were not anticipated during the budget-planning process place a strain on resources. Adams said the secretary’s office did not anticipate any additional costs.  

“That is a huge event and something, frankly, which goes above and beyond our budget,” Dine said. He noted that the USCP typically budgets 20,000 hours of pay for special events, but that budget does not include unanticipated events such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent address to Congress , protests sparked by the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the papal visit.  

Larkin said right now the Sergeant-at-Arms is “in a good place” in terms of planning for the event. But he also noted, “It’s for these events that again occur out of cycle, from our budget cycle, where again we can take a hit financially … the papal visit being a good example.”  

Larkin, who also serves as the chairman of the Capitol Police Board, which includes Dine, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving, and Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers, said the Capitol Police might have to provide officers at the pope’s other events in the United States.  

“In addition, depending on where he goes on the Eastern Seaboard, we could very well be asked to contribute personnel to other cities such as Philadelphia, New York,” Larkin said, “just by virtue of the fact that our police officers here, our departments here, are very familiar with these type of events.”  

Schatz concluded that, while it is important to keep on eye on budgetary effects, the first priority for Pope Francis’ visit is safety.  

“There’s no reason to do anything less than everything that is necessary so that everybody, including and especially the pope, is safe,” Schatz said.  

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