Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Funeral security reflects the post-Sept. 11 world

By Mike Madden
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON - This is what goes into a state funeral in 2004: metal detectors, long lines, police with automatic weapons and the Secret Service watching over it all.

As former President Reagan's body lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda tonight, Thursday and Friday, the trappings of an 18th-century funeral ritual will meet 21st-century security needs for the first time. Gone are the days when mourners could walk up to the Capitol to pay their respects, as they did for John F. Kennedy in 1963 or Lyndon Johnson in 1973.

Now, snipers will line the route as Reagan's funeral procession marches from the White House to Capitol Hill. The public will assemble outside the Capitol for security sweeps. No cameras or large bags will be allowed inside. And no one will be permitted to stop moving once they reach the Rotunda, which will be guarded by hundreds of police officers.

There was nothing like this for the last presidential state funeral 31 years ago.

"People were able to come through the East Front right into the Rotunda," said Betty Koed, the Senate's assistant historian. "It was pretty open access."

The enormous public interest and the dozens of dignitaries from around the world who will be attending mean a security clampdown Washington sees rarely - even in the post-Sept. 11 world.

Police agencies canceled vacations and called all officers to duty for the week. Officials expect as many as 150,000 people to file through the Capitol to see the flag-draped casket. The Rotunda will be open around the clock from Wednesday night until Friday morning, when another procession will wind five miles through the city to the Washington National Cathedral for a memorial service.

That presents its own security problems. President Bush, Cabinet members, members of Congress, former presidents and world leaders will all gather in the cathedral, which last hosted so many dignitaries at the memorial service three days after Sept. 11. But the service will be open only to invited guests, making it easier to secure.

"People are accustomed to this now," said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University. "I think there's enough adulation for this ex-president that people are not going to mind it that much."

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