While other states took precautionary measures by shutting down their capitol buildings, declaring emergencies and installing fencing, the Idaho Capitol Building will remain open on Inauguration Day — and state officials have said little about what they expect this week.
The FBI sent out a memo to law enforcement agencies across the country, warning of potential for armed protests starting on Sunday through President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Details remain murky, and Idaho Gov. Brad Little declined to answer specific questions about security at the Statehouse.
Little approved sending about 300 members of the Idaho National Guard to Washington, D.C., to help with Inauguration Day. But he’s remained quiet about what to expect at the state Capitol.
The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that left five dead further stoked fears of violence at state capitols. Some state legislators also feared security challenges after the special session in August, in which unmasked angry spectators broke through glass when they couldn’t enter Idaho’s House of Representatives.
Sandra Yi Barker — spokesperson for the FBI Salt Lake City field office, which oversees Idaho — said the FBI hasn’t received potential threats of violence for the Idaho Statehouse but remains vigilant through the presidential inauguration.
“At this point in time, the FBI has not received any specific and substantiated threat to the state Capitol or other government buildings in our area,” Yi Barker said in an email. “However, we are working together with our law enforcement partners to continuously share information based on tips submitted by the public. Between now and the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, we will be maintaining a heightened posture to monitor for any emerging threats to the region.”
Some states chose to shutter their capitols — including Texas, Ohio and Indiana. Governors of Utah, New Mexico and Maryland have declared states of emergencies. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s order allows the state’s Capitol to remain closed until the Thursday after the inauguration.
The U.S. Postal Service temporarily removed 10 mailboxes located near the Statehouse in Boise as a security measure to protect postal property. But USPS isn’t privy to information regarding protests and often removes collection boxes when there’s protection for large gatherings, USPS spokesperson Zachary Laux said.
“This is strictly a precautionary measure,” Laux said.
State Sen. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, in her newsletter over the weekend urged the public not to be at the Statehouse this week.
“I cannot tell you what to do, or make your choices on how you live your life. Please know that the rumors, and what is being found on social media, give one reason to be very cautious,” Zito wrote, adding that she hopes “our center of government will return to the normal we have known and loved” after Wednesday.
Zito on Tuesday said she’s grateful for law enforcement’s help in providing security and appreciates when the public shows up at the Capitol. She declined to comment further to the Statesman about what she wrote.
SECURITY PLANS FOR THE 2021 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
The state in December provided ISP with $350,000 for this year’s legislative session, using funds from COVID-19 federal aid. The funding would be enough to pay for eight troopers to provide security at the Capitol building for 40 hours a week during the session. That’s well over the $78,800 the state provided for the 2020 session, Idaho State Police spokesperson Lynn Hightower said.
State officials so far haven’t introduced new measures around security. The Idaho Statehouse doesn’t have metal detectors and remains open to the public, though some capacity measures were implemented this session due to COVID-19.
ISP plans to have an increased presence of uniformed troopers at the Statehouse this legislative session, Col. Kedrick Wills told the Statesman. ISP will safeguard people’s constitutional rights, ensure the continuity of government processes and address any disruptions.
Wills said ISP does not expect any major disruptions, despite what happened in Washington, D.C.’s, capitol.
“We are concerned for the safety of troopers and the risk we ask them to take,” Wills said. “We want to be sure everyone is safe.”
The Statesman requested a copy of any crisis security plans or evacuation plans that ISP may have for the Statehouse, but the request was denied, citing Idaho code that states “disclosure of such information is reasonably likely to jeopardize the safety of persons, property or the public safety.”
The Boise Police Department also communicates daily with Idaho State Police and is aware of any concerns ISP may be dealing with.
BPD Deputy Chief Ron Winegar noted that BPD can respond to capitol grounds without being directly asked, due to a memorandum of understanding between the two agencies.
The memorandum of understanding is a written agreement. He also noted that while the capitol grounds are ISP’s jurisdiction to patrol, if a protest were to spill into the street, it becomes BPD’s problem. The two agencies communicate and work together on contingency plans.
The two agencies have joint command centers and cooperate, Winegar told the Statesman. They also communicate about staffing levels and other assets, inside and outside of the capitol, so they could support each other if needed.
“On a daily basis we are planning with them and talking about intelligence,” Winegar said.
Idaho also hires private security guards at the Capitol under the Department of Administration. That security budget hasn’t changed this year, Security Administrator Joe Mueller said in an email. Mueller declined to provide details about the number of security guards but said those guards don’t carry weapons and aren’t authorized to make arrests.
They’re trained in “asset protection, patrol techniques, first aid and CPR response,” Mueller said. They’re taught to observe and report any problems to law enforcement.
Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder in an earlier Statesman interview said he believed it was important to keep the Capitol accessible to members of the public who want to show up in person.
“We’re asking the public to allow us to do our work and not to interfere with that, but we also have an obligation to allow the public to participate,” Winder said.