Aug. 29, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Roll Call

Campus Notebook: Capitol Burglaries Fit Recent Pattern

Office Thefts Not Rare, 5-Year Records Show

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (left) and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray have been guarded about the D.C. Council's move to gain budget autonomy for the District through a referendum.

House Members and staffers are experiencing what feels like an unprecedented rash of thefts in their Capitol Hill offices.

What Capitol Police statistics show, however, is that office thefts have always been somewhat of a problem.

At Roll Call's request, Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider provided the number of reported thefts from offices across the Capitol campus in the same one-month period - Aug. 24 to Sept. 24 - over the past five years. The numbers show that each year had its share of burglaries, with the most occurring in 2011 and 2010.

"It's disconcerting ... but over the years there are going to be thefts," said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who has a decade of institutional knowledge. "It hasn't been rampant, but when you have 10,000 employees or more in the House and Senate, and 3 million people walking through the buildings, crime is liable to happen."

For additional context, Schneider said that in many cases one individual was ultimately connected to multiple office thefts.

"One defendant was arrested and charged with six other cases that were closed out," she said. "Another defendant was charged with six cases that were closed, and a third defendant was tied to four separate theft cases."

The recent burglaries in House Members' offices suggest the same person could be behind each one: Each robbery has occurred at night, conducted by someone with keys to the offices, and  the stolen goods have been mostly personal items with some collectors' value.

Schneider's statistics don't indicate which offices were targeted and what was taken; individuals whose belongings have been ransacked have to disclose that information themselves.

But the numbers do provide a breakdown of how many thefts occurred in what buildings and how Capitol Police classified the incidents. 

"Theft I" is the classification used when the value of stolen goods exceeds $1,000, and "Theft II" is used when the value falls below that threshold.

From Aug. 24 to Sept. 24 of this year, four thefts were reported. Three Theft II burglaries occurred in the Rayburn House Office Building. Two of the offices burgled are occupied by Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.). One Theft I incident occurred in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

During this same time frame in 2011, there were a total of nine burglaries in Capitol Hill offices. Four took place in Dirksen, one of which had a Theft I classification. The other Theft II incidents took place in the Rayburn and Longworth office buildings, the Hart Senate Office Building, the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress and the Capitol itself.

There were seven thefts in 2010; one Theft I incident in Longworth. There were two Theft II incidents in Rayburn, two in Longworth, one in Dirksen and one at the Capitol Police headquarters.

The previous two years showed a quieter four-week period. 

In 2009, there were three thefts: one Theft I in Longworth and two Theft IIs, one in Dirksen and another in the Ford House Office Building. 

In 2008, there were just two burglaries, one Theft I in Rayburn and one Theft II in Hart.

No Clear Path for D.C. Budget Autonomy

The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously introduced legislation to authorize a charter referendum unlinking the city's budget from the Congressional appropriations process, a move that prompted a chilly response on Capitol Hill.

Heartened by momentum surrounding the issue on Capitol Hill but skeptical that it will yield budget autonomy legislation that is free of policy riders on issues such as gun control and abortion, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) introduced a bill that would let residents vote on a referendum to amend the city charter to accomplish that goal. 

If the referendum passes, Congress would have 35 days to pass a disapproval resolution to prevent the measure from automatically going into effect.

House Republicans have not reacted well to the news that the local government is attempting to circumvent Congress.

"The D.C. Council seems committed to grandstanding on this issue even when it comes at the price of complicated budget autonomy efforts in Congress," a House Republican aide said. "There are leaders in D.C. who want to work with Congress."

Mayor Vincent Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) tout the inroads they have made with Republicans on Capitol Hill who they believe could help shepherd D.C. budget autonomy further along.

High-ranking officials in local government are also concerned that the referendum would not pass legal muster, even though advocates say their attorneys have given the maneuver the green light.

Norton has been careful to neither fully endorse nor fully blast the D.C. Council's new strategy, which has the support of local activists.

"She continues to pursue a budget autonomy bill in Congress in order to preserve the bipartisan Congressional support that has been building and may prove necessary, considering the many difficult issues raised by the referendum, and to preserve the city's options on other D.C. matters," Norton's spokesman said in a statement. "Whether through legislation or referendum, there is no clear path to budget autonomy."

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