Last week the state legislature approved $345,000 for new security measures at the Capitol, including gates at the entrances to the drive and the installation of security cameras.
Sergeant Don Smith, head of the executive security unit of the Colorado State Patrol, which oversees security at the Capitol and the Governor's Mansion (and whose employees serve as chauffeurs for Governor Bill Owens and the First Family), says the plan has been in the works for about a year and is not a direct response to several shenanigans in and around the Capitol during the month of October.
For the moment, at least, simply closing several entrances to the Capitol has been enough to protect Governor Owens and others inside the building.
On October 12, for example, officials closed the Capitol doors and deployed a large contingent of state troopers and Denver police officers when a group of human-rights activists commemorated Indigenous Rights Day by protesting Owens's trade agreement with Mexico; the Chiapas Coalition, which believes the Mexican government mistreats the people of Chiapas, had already burst into a luncheon meeting between Owens, the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce and Denver businesspeople at the Embassy Suites Hotel on September 16.
"We never know far in advance if we will close the doors," Smith says. "We look at each [protest] independently. If we think they are going to be violent, then we go from there. [The Chiapas Coalition] had shown that that's the way they acted [at Embassy Suites], so we weren't sure if they would act the same way here." The demonstration turned out to be a peaceful one.
Two days later, officers again closed the doors when 28-year-old Desmond Howard Derrick scaled the Pioneers Monument near Civic Center Park, claiming to be armed with dynamite and forcing the evacuation of nearby buildings and the closure of Colfax, Lincoln and Broadway streets during rush hour. Derrick, who told police he just wanted to be on TV, eventually surrendered to police.
As if that weren't enough excitement, on October 21 a state trooper arrested sixty-year-old Gerald Wayne McKeel of Colorado Springs, who'd walked into the Capitol with a loaded handgun in his backpack. McKeel told police he wanted to talk to the governor about a child-custody issue.
"We shut down doors so we can keep a better idea about who is coming and going from buildings," Smith says, "but [the Capitol] is never really closed down. There are usually six doors open." Smith can call for a lockdown, as can the governor or the legislature, based on intelligence information, history or circumstances. Doors have been closed during permitted protests by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Indian Movement as well as the American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, a group that sometimes uses civil disobedience to bring attention to the needs of the disabled.
"There's all kinds of weird things going on that didn't used to occur," Smith says, referring to incidents like the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. "The mentality was always that we don't have to worry about those things because we live out west, but Oklahoma City showed us that's not true. But this is not overkill, because we don't want to be on the level of federal courthouses, where everyone goes through one metal detector. I think the governor and the legislature want this building to be open as much as possible without people feeling like they are entering a prison. People want to come in and see their elected officials."
Smith, who has worked in the Capitol for eleven years, says former governor Roy Romer didn't like a lot of security but that Owens is much more security-conscious, making it easier for Smith to do his job. "I think some of the things as far as security should have been done a long time ago, but we weren't able to do it."
And what if a stern-looking John and Patsy Ramsey -- whom Owens recently all but accused of being JonBenét's killers -- were spotted walking determinedly up the Capitol stairs toward one of the doors?
Smith laughs: "We'd close it if it was a public safety issue."
Mag, mag, mag
The November Travel & Leisure has a swell spread on "Denver: Rocky Mountain Makeover," complete with a list of handy hints on how a traveler knows he's in Denver. "Your bartender has a Ph.D. in geology," the magazine opines. "Locals think Heinz ketchup is spicy."
How about: Locals take national press like this seriously.
If you have a tip, call Jonathan Shikes at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416, or e-mail [email protected].