WASHINGTON – Police checkpoints that have surrounded the Capitol (search) since last August were gone Thursday following a postelection decision by authorities to lower the threat level.
The removal of the vehicle checkpoints that delayed traffic along Constitution, Independence and other roads around the Capitol coincided with the Homeland Security Department's (search) decision to lower the threat level from orange to yellow for financial institutions in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer ordered the 14 checkpoints to be erected on Aug. 1, at the same time the threat level for the World institutions was raised. He also cited concerns that terrorists might try to launch an attack before the presidential elections.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford said one street closure imposed on Aug. 1 would remain in effect. The street, connecting the Capitol with Union Station, runs along a Senate office building.
She said both the lowered threat level and the stress on police officers were factors in the decision to take down the traffic barriers. Capitol Police have been working 12-hour shifts since the heightened alert went into effect.
District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams (search) said in a statement that he was "extremely pleased" by the decision to eliminate the checkpoints.
Williams had protested the original decision, saying he had not been adequately consulted and the security measures were excessive. He said that "walling off the Capitol, thus transforming this symbol of American freedom and democracy into a veritable 'fortress of fear,' was never the answer to preventing terrorism."
The checkpoints for the most part consisted of officers taking a quick look inside vehicles. "We hoped that using the checkpoints was a deterrence in itself," Sellers-Ford said.
Security remains tight around the Capitol as construction workers prepare for the presidential inauguration Jan. 20. "We remain very vigilant," she said.