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Capitol Police Take Extra Security Measures This General Assembly Session

Capitol Police on patrol
Virginia Capitol Police on patrol during the first day of the 2020 General Assembly session. (Sara McCloskey / VPM)

The Virginia Division of Capitol Police are ramping up security this General Assembly session in anticipation of large demonstrations. Thousands are expected to protest proposed gun control measures on January 20. 

Capitol Police spokesperson Joe Macenka said the agency has met with Philip Van Cleave, the president of the gun rights advocacy group Virginia Citizens Defense League. The group is hosting the rally. 

“We have been told the Citizens Defense League could be anywhere in the range of 3,000 anywhere up to 10,000 or possibly even more,” Macenka said. “The X-factor in that is that there could be folks coming from out of state.” 

Van Cleave said in an interview with VPM News that typically, the between 800 to a thousand people will attend the lobby day from VCDL. He said "it'll be way north of 30,000" or "as high as 120,000 people" this year. Buses are anticipated to bring activists from other states, as far as Texas to Connecticut. 

Capitol Police works with the Virginia State Police Fusion Center, which is a collaborative of state and federal agencies, to share resources and information and to identify potential risks during the legislative session. 

More officers are also on hand from other agencies, such as Virginia State Police and the Richmond Police Department. Capitol Police could not comment on the exact number of additional law enforcement officers that are on hand to assist this year compared to previous years. 

Some democratic lawmakers have expressed interest in prohibiting visitors from bringing firearms to the Capitol. It’s unclear if and when those changes may be made. Currently, visitors with a concealed carry permit can bring guns into legislative buildings and parts of the Capitol building. Firearms are not permitted in the Senate chamber, the executive office area on the third floor of the Capitol and the VCU Computer Center on the first floor of the Pocahontas Building, where lawmakers have their offices and committee meetings.

Macenka said about 300,000 people come in and out of the Capitol complex throughout the legislative session. The Pocahontas Building is approved by the fire marshal for about 5,700 people. Legislators and their staff account for about 1,000 people in the building, on a typical workday. The maximum number of people that can be in the Capitol is about 2,000. State employees account for about a quarter of that 

There is an alert system people can sign up for to get notifications about incidents or emergencies, called the Virginia State Capitol Alert Network

VPM Intern Alexander Broening contributed to this reporting. VPM Legal Reporter Whittney Evans also contributed. 

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