Shortly after the 2020 election, then-Lt. Gov.-elect Deidre Henderson and her family were assigned an around-the-clock security detail from the Utah Highway Patrol and it remains to this day.
In a more temporary security move, Utah Highway Patrol troopers were dispatched during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to provide protection for the families of Utah’s six members of Congress.
Both of these security responses, never before reported, were confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune by the Utah Department of Public Safety. They also are an acknowledgment of the fractious — potentially violent — politics of the times.
Such security precautions are rare, if not unprecedented, in Utah, outside the massive law-enforcement preparations for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
While it’s routine for the governor to have a full-time security detail, this is the first time such long-term protection has been afforded to the lieutenant governor.
The security detail for Henderson was initiated after a specific threat was identified, Lt. Nick Street, Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesperson, told The Tribune.
“There was a legitimate threat brought to our attention. Based on our analysis, we determined there was a need that warranted a response,” he said.
DPS would not provide any details about the nature of the threat, but acknowledged the detail for Henderson remains in place. Henderson’s office referred any questions about security arrangements to DPS.
At least one other member of the Legislature has asked DPS to respond to a possible threat.
Families of Utah’s congressional delegation, meanwhile, received temporary security protection amid the chaos of the January attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump supporters. The siege was so alarming, DPS felt it required an immediate response.
“We didn’t know what kind of threat there was,” said Street. “We decided to put security on the entire delegation.”
Rank-and-file members of Congress are not usually afforded security when they travel to and from Washington, D.C. That was highlighted by a video of a Trump supporter accosting Sen. Mitt Romney in the Salt Lake City International Airport the day before the Capitol riot. Romney also was jeered by chants of “traitor” by some fellow passengers on his flight to D.C.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling that members of Congress are so exposed when they’re in public like that,” said Spencer Stokes who traveled with then-Sen. Orrin Hatch in 1999. “He was very recognizable and people approached him quite frequently” without incident. In his final years in Washington, however, Hatch was assigned a full-time security detail as Senate president pro tempore, third in line in the presidential succession.
Back in Utah, security at the state Capitol has been increased in recent months following the U.S. Capitol riot. Forty troopers initially assigned to assist with security for President Joe Biden’s inauguration were kept home after a planned armed protest at the Capitol on Jan. 17. That protest fizzled out after Gov. Spencer Cox declared an emergency and closed the Capitol complex to the public through the first several days of the legislative session.
The Utah commissioner of public safety, currently Jess Anderson, has statutory authority to provide protection for elected officials and dignitaries in the state. That “dignitary protection” program is responsible for providing security for the governor and his family, both houses of the Utah Legislature when they are in session, and other visiting dignitaries.
The budget for the dignitary protection program last year was $4.076 million. This year, the Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee included a funding request from DPS for $900,000 in ongoing funds and $480,000 from one-time money intended for “executive protection.” The request notes that money is for “a mix of added security for executive (constitutional officers) and the Legislature both for the Capitol Complex but in some cases, beyond the Capitol depending on threat levels.” Based on that language, the increase in funding could seemingly cover the increased cost of a 24/7 security detail for Henderson. DPS could not immediately pinpoint the price tag for the added security.
It’s not just security for the lieutenant governor that is adding to the costs. SB222 from Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, tasks the office of executive protection with providing security for public officials and their staff, as well as the Capitol Hill complex.
“We are very concerned about the safety of some of our staffers,” said Ipson. “We just wanted to make sure DPS was more responsive to the protection of our staff.”
Ipson’s bill also puts strict limits on those extra security arrangements for people other than the governor. After 15 days, the public safety commissioner must approve any extension of the added protection and report to the Senate president and House speaker.
The proposal carries a price tag of $1.18 million next year, and $680,000 the following year.
Ipson’s bill was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday and now heads to the Senate floor.