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Threats Not New for Former Lawmen

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Rep. Michael Grimm says that although freshman Members get ethics training, they don’t get enough help in dealing with security threats.

For some lawmakers, living with the threat of violence is nothing new.

In August, a deputy to Republican Rep. Rich Nugent, who was at the time a sheriff in Florida, was shot during a standoff.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), a former FBI agent, has long lived with the possibility that one of the people he met in his deep-undercover job might seek revenge on him.

And when he was a border patrol agent, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) knew the heft of a bulletproof vest on his shoulders.

For the Members of Congress who come from law enforcement backgrounds, the shooting in Arizona that wounded their colleague, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), wasn’t a shock in the way it might have been for Members whose previous jobs were as real estate agents or accountants or teachers. For them, looking over one’s shoulder is all in a day’s work.

“This has been my life,” says Nugent, a Republican who spent nearly 30 years as a police officer and sheriff. “The threat has always been there, so I am calloused to it in a way.”

Some of these Members, with their fluency in the vocabulary of security, guns and murder, have reacted warily to the Arizona shooting rampage. They say it won’t change the way they interact with constituents, but that in order for Members of Congress to remain accessible to their constituents, they and their colleagues must be better prepared to deal with the menace that lurks around them.

“The world is a dangerous place, and bad things happen every day,” says Grimm, whose FBI career included two years in which he posed as a hedge-fund manager in Manhattan, with a wire hidden underneath his pinstripe suits. 

That awareness has caused Grimm and others with similar experience to coach their staffs on how to identify and respond to potential security threats. In some cases, that includes having on-staff experts.

Grimm recently hired a retired New York Police Department detective to work in his district office. In addition to the usual duties of a Congressional aide, including community outreach, the retired police officer will be the staff point person on all internal security matters.

After the incident in Arizona, “the first thing I did, after saying a prayer, was to ask him to write a memo on what we need to do,” Grimm says.

Reyes has also found it useful to have someone experienced on hand. His deputy chief of staff is retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

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