State Capitol’s security force often unseen, but presence is there, officials say

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The Capitol Security Section oversees the State Capitol in a silent but effective manner.

Photo by: Colin Donnelly

The Capitol Security Section oversees the State Capitol in a silent but effective manner.

The Michigan State Capitol is one of the most historic buildings in the entire state, in addition to holding some of the most important political figures in the state as well. Anyone can walk right in without being questioned, just as it is meant to be.

The sign just outside the State Capitol reads “Welcome” for anyone who wishes to enter. Tours are available, and anyone is welcome to take a self-guided tour as well. You have access to almost everywhere in the building. But just how safe is it?

First Lt. Brody Boucher, commander of the Capitol Security Section, says that although security isn’t always visible, those who work within the Capitol are always being guarded.

“It’s the people’s house,” says Boucher. “We encourage all citizens to come and enjoy their freedoms. We definitely have security officers all around the Capitol, but we want to make sure that people feel safe and free to do what they wish.”

The visitor's entrance to the Capitol sits directly underneath the front steps. A receptionist and one officer sit just inside the doors.

Photo by: Colin Donnelly

The visitor’s entrance to the Capitol sits directly underneath the front steps. A receptionist and one officer sit just inside the doors.

The State Capitol is open to the public during business hours throughout the week, excluding Sundays. This, Boucher says, allows for public opinions to be spread freely, with the hopes that their senators, representatives and others within the building will hear them.

The lack of visible security, however, can be a bit concerning for some people. Anyone has the ability to walk all the way up to the office of the governor.

In this day and age, with all the political intensity and seriousness that surrounds the United States, who is to say that this type of access could possibly be dangerous to our government officials?

Dr. Mahesh Nalla, a professor in the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice, agrees that it does seem a little odd that the Capitol allows a free flow of people, but he also understands that it is important for the people to be a part of it.

“If you walk into a store with a credit card and they don’t ask for ID, it makes you wonder,” Nalla says. “Typically there’s a receptionist or a greeter, not a uniformed guard. But, in buildings like this one, everything is always under control.”

Nalla continued to say that each government building has different ways of deciding its optimal security and equipment, and that he has full confidence that the Michigan State Capitol is no different.

Dr. Phillip Schertzing, also a professor in the MSU School of Criminal Justice, says that there is nothing to be concerned about.

“Even though there are state police there, their job is not to stop people,” Schertzing says. “There are hundreds of staff members and visitors that pass through the Capitol every day. They try not to have metal detectors because it is the people’s house.”

The governor’s “office,” Schertzing points out, isn’t really used for an office anymore anyways. That office is now a ceremonial office, used for signing pieces of legislature and other press-worthy events.

The Capitol Security Section oversees several government buildings in Downtown Lansing, but the State Capitol Building is arguably the most important.

Graphic by: Colin Donnelly

The Capitol Security Section oversees several government buildings in Downtown Lansing, but the State Capitol Building is arguably the most important.

“His real office is across the street on Capitol Avenue,” Schertzing says. “But you can’t just walk in there; you’ll definitely be denied entry without an appointment.”

The front steps of the Capitol are a prime spot for many protests and rallies held by Michigan citizens, as it is public property. Boucher, however, maintains that the safety of the citizens is the primary concern for capitol security.

“We want to make sure that every citizen feels safe, knowing that they will be protected,” Boucher says. “We want to maintain peace throughout rallies so that people continue to feel welcomed.”

Although the security force within Michigan’s most important building might be invisible, they are absolutely present.

“My daughter got married in the rotunda of the Capitol just a few years ago,” Schertzing said. “I don’t know if you can do that anymore, but we had access to anywhere in the building, and we felt totally safe.”