CHELTENHAM, Md. — Forearms pressed into the black asphalt, the Capitol Police’s 179th class of recruits shook and dripped with sweat in their third minute of planks. It was near 10 a.m. on an 80-degree morning in mid-September, and since 7 a.m. they had been performing squats, crunches and a particularly grueling training drill requiring them to drag a 165 pound dummy 40 feet.
“Is this what you want to do for a career?” yelled a trainer walking through the rows, examining their form. “If it is, you’ve got to reach down and pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”
Actually, the 23 men and two women in their fourth of seven days at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center were wearing tennis shoes and department-issued navy blue T-shirts and mesh shorts. These recruits, among the 110 selected this year from a pool of 7,000 applicants, were drawn to a Capitol Police career for its prestige, exciting assignments and the benefits of a federal job with a starting salary of more than $56,000. But the message was clear. “Up until today, it wasn’t really physical, so today was the first test,” said Anthony Delasso, 33, a native of the Philippines who spent his first 12 years out of high school in the Marine Corps. Delasso then worked for a private security company in Iraq and Afghanistan for a year — “the only place doing business right now,” he explained — before applying for the Capitol Police.
"I want to know it all, do it all," Delasso said, standing at ease after a light jog around the grounds, when asked about his ambitions at a department with a $338-million annual budget. "I realize we’ll probably get some static gig for a few years, but eventually, I’d like to go mobile patrol."
James Mehr, a recent college graduate from Woodbridge, Va., who held perfect form in the front row during the plank exercise, said he would like to join the bike patrol, or the department's K9 unit, following in the footsteps of his uncle. "There's also dignitary protection. It's a great opportunity to travel ... especially for me, since I'm young and don't have a family," said Mehr, 22.
Marc Collazo, a Waldorf, Md., native, also is interested in K9 patrol. His Air Force veteran father, who now works in the federal government, inspired him to pursue a career with Capitol Police after earning a degree in criminal justice. "I have my own German Shepherd myself," said Collazo, 24.
Those dreams may come true one day, but these recruits will start out in the agency's uniformed services bureau, stationed inside the Capitol, House or Senate office buildings or Library of Congress facilities. This new crop of officers will be responding to one of the biggest gripes from members : bottlenecks at the doors.
They'll also replenish the ranks after a hiring freeze. The 175th class of Capitol Police officers graduated in early spring 2013. It was summer 2014 when the 176th class graduated. The 177th and 178th classes also are both working their way through training.
During that stretch, Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine testified to House and Senate appropriators that cuts in staff left the department short of the resources to carry its mission of protecting Congress. Instead, they utilized overtime and sought a temporary exemption from the mandatory retirement age from the Capitol Police Board that allowed older officers to keep working. In 2013, Dine said staff reductions had affected the department's civilian workforce, who have taken on "expanded workloads and strained our ability to resolve longstanding internal controls weaknesses as rapidly as we might like."
The current authorized strength is 1,755 sworn officers, according to department spokesperson Lt. Kimberly Schneider. A decade ago, the total was 1,535; five years ago it was 1,801. Dine has requested increased funding to fill the 1,755 positions.
Candidates must undergo physical screening and basic tests of math, reading and grammar, plus medical, psychological and polygraph examinations. After their week in Maryland, the recruits ship out to a uniform police training program in Georgia, where the physical work intensifies. They spend about 12 weeks undergoing CPR and driver training, in addition to classroom courses on constitutional law.
That’s a brand new subject matter for Mark Meyers, 35. After a decade working in graphics, marketing and technical writing in Indianapolis, Meyers is switching paths. In July, he relocated to Northern Virginia with his wife and two kids, ages 7 and 8, and has been making weekly ventures into the District to familiarize himself with the area.
“I always wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement, and had an opportunity to finally pursue that in my life and so I took it and ran with it,” said the redhead who eventually wants to work on the patrol unit or highly specialized Containment and Emergency Response Team.
Eyaba Sogoyou, 29, has firsthand law enforcement experience, and familiarity with politics. He said his dad was a "big time politician" in Togo, the West African nation where he was born. Sogoyou lived in France as a child, attended college in New York City and joined the U.S. Army about five years ago. He studied forensic accounting and wants to pursue a master's degree as soon as he finishes Capitol Police training.
Sogoyou, built taller and heavier than many of his classmates, served as a unit supply specialist and military police officer. He recently returned from a one-year deployment at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that he describes as "a lot mental and emotional," but not physically demanding. One day, he's hoping to land an undercover gig in the protective services bureau.
The training averages a 4 percent attrition rate, according to Capitol Police staff at FLETC. Some physically can't make it, and others fail out academically. Occasionally, they leave for another career opportunity before earning the badge.
After Georgia, the recruits will return to FLETC for about 13 weeks of training in Capitol Police policies and the District of Columbia laws they will be responsible for enforcing. In a scale model of the Capitol that includes a mock chamber and grand staircase, they will undergo active shooter training. The recruits will also learn the proper technique for tossing disruptive tourists and demonstrators from a fake visitor gallery.
"I just want to get through it," Sogoyou said, as the sweaty recruits nodded in agreement. "I don't think it will be worse than basic training."
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