Rep. Michael Grimm says that although freshman Members get ethics training, they dont get enough help in dealing with security threats.
“Every one of us has the innate skill to recognize a situation that is abnormal or potentially dangerous,” Reyes says. “In law enforcement, we get training to recognize that.” But he tells his staffers that even they can spot a potential threat. “You assess a situation and something doesn’t look right — that’s your inner self telling you,” he says.
All three former lawmen agree that limiting their exposure to the public simply isn’t an option. And that’s not the bravado of veteran officers speaking, they say. Face-to-face contact with their constituents is a defining element of being a Member of Congress.
And despite having seen people at their worst and most inhumane, they want to be among them — at parades, at community events and at forums where constituents can share their concerns. Even if that means they must face angry voters. “You can do tele-town halls and Twitter and everything else, but there’s nothing like that personal contact,” Nugent says.
Reyes postponed one event immediately after the shooting. In his experience, copycat violence is always a possibility. But nothing else will change, he insists. “Constituent service and outreach is the backbone of why we have a job,” he says.
Drastic reactions aren’t warranted, the former lawmen say. After all, there is no such thing as perfect security. For all the metal detectors at events, beefed-up security or any other external measures that Members might take, a person bent on violence can often find a way.
A better solution, they agree, is more awareness about security threats among Members of Congress, particularly those with little experience in dealing with them. Grimm notes that freshman Members get extensive briefing and training in the ethics rules that they must abide by. But there should be more of a focus on keeping themselves safe, he says.
He says he plans to take his ideas to leadership, where he hopes his experience in the field will lend them credibility.
Nugent also plans to speak with fellow members of the House Administration Committee about stepping up training for Members and their staffs on how to spot threats and react quickly, whether in their offices or during public events. When he was a sheriff, he conducted security checks of the district office belonging to his predecessor, then-Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R).
Reducing threats can be as simple as making sure there’s a door that locks from the reception area in case there’s an intruder, he says, or installing a panic button at the front desk.
Grimm wants Congress to go a step further. He’s proposing allowing Members of Congress or their staffers to be trained and deputized to carry a weapon and act as their own security force.
For now, these Members are informally sharing advice with colleagues, urging them to talk to the Capitol Police or the Sergeant-at-Arms office and to be wary but not afraid.
Nugent says he’s also telling Members to stay in touch with local law enforcement officials in their districts, alerting them about when and where they plan to hold events. A police presence, he says, can be a deterrent and a comfort.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.