Why Public Congressional Meetings Should Have Police Security (Maybe)

There have been a lot of proposals floating around about protecting congressmen. One suggestion is to use local police as security:

According to a federal official who is preparing the advice, the Capitol Police will recommend that when members hold well-publicized outside events with uncontrolled access, they should request the presence of a police officer from the local jurisdiction. In most cases, the police will know about the event anyway, because congressional staffers would have obtained permits. In a conference call with members yesterday, Capitol Police officials emphasized that local police agencies will rarely refuse a request from a member of Congress to provide an officer for such events - and that if those agencies do, members should ask the Capitol Police to intercede.

But Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein both disagree:

Like Ezra Klein, I don't really see the case for this. It's not like the cops who local agencies will be happy to assign to members just materialize out of nowhere. More cops attending congressional town halls means fewer cops elsewhere and "Attacks on meetings held by members of Congress happen almost never, while many communities have too much crime and too few police." Obviously what happened in Arizona is a horrible thing, but so are all the other murders that happen in the United States. There's no particular reason to think that congressional assassination or congress-related spree killing is a serious problem in the United States that needs more specific policy emphasis relative to more general concerns about crime control and mental health.

Where I disagree is that a congressman in his or her role as an elected representative isn't just another person. He or she represents the outcome of a democratic process involving thousands of citizens. No madman (or for that matter, sane political terrorist) has the right to overturn a free and fair election. This is not 'just another' murder.

That's what the security is protecting, not the individual person. If the presence of a police officer would provide little protection or intimidate constituents, then it is a bad policy. But democracy is worth protecting.

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