Police Prepping For Potential Violent Protests At State Capitol; No Credible Threats Reported
The New York State Capitol is bracing for potential violence and armed protesters in the coming days, after FBI warnings about significant threats in online chatter from white supremacy and other far right groups. New York State Police say there are no specific credible threats against the building in downtown Albany, but are nevertheless stepping up patrols and taking precautions to harden security.
At a Friday afternoon briefing at State Police Troop G headquarters, Troop commander, Major Christopher West says steps have been taken to increase security at the Capitol, including closing one of two main entrances on State Street, and setting up concrete barriers to divert traffic away from the building.
“We are also aware of information that groups have been advocating for armed protest at state Capitols nationwide ahead of the inauguration,” West Said. “While there is no credible threat to Albany, we still have taken additional steps to increase security.
West says New York’s National Guard is also on stand by.
On Friday, police with assault rifles and K-9 unit dogs patrolled on foot outside the building, and three- foot- high linked metal fences blocked the sweeping staircases on the East and West sides of the building. Major West says for safety reasons he can’t reveal exact deployment numbers or law enforcement strategies, but says there are adequate forces if things go awry in the next several days.
West was joined by Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins and Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, the New York National Guard’s Eric Underhill, as well as the FBI’s Thomas Relford who also says they’ve uncovered no “substantiated” threats against state government buildings, or state elected officials.
“That said, our office remains on heightened alert,” said Relford who said a command post has been set up to coordinate intelligence.
West says the state police have plenty of practice dealing with protests, at the state Capitol. Largely peaceful demonstrations attracting hundreds and sometimes thousands of participants are a routine occurrence at the Capitol during the legislative session.
He says First Amendment rights to free speech will be protected, but violence of any kind will not be tolerated.
“Anyone who comes to the Capitol with the intention of causing violence or damage to public property will be arrested,” West said. “We have zero tolerance for anyone who incites or causes any violence.”
A confrontation between pro- President Trump demonstrators and counter protesters outside the State Capitol on January 6th resulted in a stabbing incident and five arrests.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Police Chief Hawkins have warned city residents to avoid the downtown area in the coming days, especially on Sunday and Wednesday, Inauguration day, when they believe demonstrations are most likely to occur. Major West says those who work at the Capitol and surrounding government building, should go about their business next week, but be careful.
“I think they should take precautions but they should also just go about their regular lives,” West said.
A letter to workers at the State Capitol, which has been closed to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic struck last March, advises them to not let strangers in or give out any information about office locations. The letter also asks them to be on the lookout for signs of any attempted break ins.
Despite the warnings, the legislative session is scheduled to take place as planned Tuesday and Wednesday, with Governor Andrew Cuomo scheduled to give his budget address on the 19th.
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says the Assembly is working with state and Capitol police to keep everyone safe.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins say while these are “scary times,” she trusts assurances by law enforcement that adequate precautions are in place.