In the wake of the Jan. 6 riot, Louisiana is creating a new police force to secure State Capitol

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Images of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol are seared into the minds of most Americans, many left stunned by how easily the rioters breached security to enter the Capitol.

In Louisiana, those shocking images weren't lost on state Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales, both Republicans.

That's why Cortez said he filed a bill to create a new Louisiana Capitol police force that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law designed to elevate security back home.

"We all saw what happened on Jan. 6, and that's what prompted the speaker and I to examine our own level of security," Cortez said in an interview with USA Today Network.

What they found, Cortez said, was a patchwork of separate security forces with little coordination.

"Each group may be doing an effective job in its area of responsibility, but there's no overall consistency or coordination and frankly, we don't think there are enough officers in place," he said.

Louisiana Capitol, Dec. 13, 2021

Current security forces in place include: the House sergeants of arms, who are responsible for security in the House chamber and committee rooms; Senate security and Senate sergeants of arms, which are separate groups but responsible for the Senate chamber and committee rooms; State Police troopers, who are responsible for the governor's security detail; and the Department of Public Safety Capitol police, who generally secure the grounds and parking areas.

The new Capitol Security Police agency created by Cortez's Act 507 will include 20 to 24 officers and a chief who will coordinate not just his or her own force but a comprehensive plan with the existing security teams.

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None of the existing security teams will be eliminated.

The new agency will be overseen by the Capitol Security Council, a 10-member commission that includes the Senate president and four appointees and the House speaker and four appointees. The group that met for the first time Monday.

Louisiana's Capitol has seen previous threats and violence, including a 20-to-30-stick dynamite bomb that exploded on a Sunday night in 1970 inside an empty Senate chamber that was connected to an organized labor dispute.

A reminder of that bombing remains in place today in the form of a pencil hanging from the ceiling that was launched by the bomb. 

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"It gets scary sometimes," Schexnayder said during Monday's meeting.

The commission established a hiring process for its chief Monday, setting a Sept. 30 deadline for applications and authorizing Cortez and Schexnayder to settle on a salary for the new agency's leader.

Commissioners plan to have a chief hired and a security force in place before next spring's Legislative Session with an estimated annual budget of $2 million.

"This isn't a retirement job; one of those jobs you see at the beach in Destin (Fla.)," said Democratic Lafayette Sen. Gerald Boudreaux. "We have to do more with the challenges we face moving forward with security."

Cortez said the new Capitol Security Police will also be responsible for security at the Capitol Annex, the Pentagon Apartments and other grounds connected to the main building.

"We want to continue to make the Capitol accessible to the public in the safest possible atmosphere for both the public and those who work in this building," Cortez said. "Can we eliminate all risks? No. But there's no doubt this will make it safer."

Greg Hilburn covers Louisiana politics for the USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.