DC, federal officials unveil plan for heightened security for State of the Union

D.C. and federal officials unveiled plans for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. Here’s what you need to know.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the District’s emergency operations center has been activated in anticipation of possible demonstrations, which includes a purported convoy of trucks making its way to the D.C. area to protest against pandemic restrictions, among other issues.

D.C. police Chief Robert Contee and representatives from the U.S. Capitol Police, the Secret Service and U.S. Park Police joined Bowser Monday afternoon in a briefing.

Contee said that D.C. police have increased staffing and enhanced the security posture in the city, and the department is prepared to take “swift law enforcement actions” if necessary.

Contee said resources have been deployed throughout the city since last week as part of a “layered mitigation strategy” in anticipation of the possible trucker convoy, and the department has been coordinating with federal partners to ensure a “peaceful First Amendment” demonstration.

Protesters will be allowed into D.C., Contee said, and the enhanced police presence will remain in place “as long as it needs to be in place.”

In addition to the National Guard, which has been approved until March 7, law enforcement members from other areas have been invited as a “standby posture” in the event that they are needed, including officers from Philadelphia and Baltimore, Contee said.

The Pentagon has approved the deployment of 700 unarmed National Guard troops to D.C. in preparation for the trucker convoys that are planning protests against pandemic restrictions.

The troops will be used to help with traffic control during demonstrations. Contee said the District’s National Guard will be used by D.C. police.

Capitol Police have already announced that several streets around the Capitol complex will be closed Tuesday evening ahead of the president’s speech, which takes place at 9 p.m.

As for whether the trucker convoys will materialize and exactly when, Christopher Rodriguez, the director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency for D.C., said they are working to distill “what is real and what is not,” specifically Russian disinformation, and sharing that information with the public.

U.S. Park Police Chief Pamela Smith said that a request for a permit scheduled at Sylvan Theater at the National Mall on Tuesday has been approved. The organization that applied is called KNK Foundation Inc. and its stated purpose for the event is a “peaceful demonstration/assembly” against mandates and “support of convoys in Canada.”

“There’s been a lot of reporting around convoy and there could be counter protests, any of those things. So any and all potential disruptions to our city is really our planning posture that we are in here in the Metropolitan Police Department,” Contee said.

The State of the Union is considered a National Special Security Event, and the Secret Service is the lead federal agency in charge of it.

Matthew Stohler, special agent in charge of the Secret Service Washington Field Office, said he is confident in the “very robust security plan” in place.

Investigators have been monitoring online chatter, which includes an array of general threats against elected officials but there are no specific or credible threats against the event, officials told The Associated Press.

At the Capitol, fencing that was installed for months after the January 2021 insurrection went back up, amid concerns about the potential demonstrations.

Acting Assistant Chief for Capitol Police Sean Gallagher said the fence is out of an abundance of caution and in conjunction with the request for the Secret Service.

“I say it’s temporary. We are very confident in the security plan that is put forth for the State of the Union with all the partners standing up here and the other partners that are not able to be here today. Once we get through the State of the Union and have a successful event, a decision we made soon after about the removal of that fence,” Gallagher said.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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