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Gainer: Better Communication is the Lesson From Navy Yard Shooting

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Last fall's massacre at the Navy Yard taught Capitol Hill law enforcement important lessons about front-line response and securing the chambers, according to former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, who participated in a seminar on the subject Monday as part of his new role with Securitas USA.  

One big takeaway: "Get communications to the troops quicker," said Gainer, who retired this spring after seven years as the Senate's top law enforcement officer and more than 46 years in public service.  

Gainer gave a warm welcome to Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who gave a keynote speech during the George Washington University event, reflecting on the response to the mass shooting. Lanier listed a number of regional police forces that helped with the Navy Yard response, including the Park Police and FBI — but not Capitol Police. In the wake of the shooting, a BBC report  speculated that lives might have been saved if heavily-armed members of the Capitol Police's Containment and Emergency Response Team had not been ordered to "stand down" by their commanders. After criticism, Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine requested an internal review  of the department's response. Investigators found no wrongdoing, but offered several recommendations for improvement.  

The union rejected  the findings as biased, claiming the Capitol Police have a culture of refusing to get involved in assisting the D.C. law enforcement community. Despite calls for an investigation into the 'stand down' controversy , Congress has shown little interest  in the issue.  

"The CERT team is unbelievably professional," Gainer said in an interview following Lanier's speech. "They weren't happy because they thought they were disrespected and I think everybody gets that. There needed to be better communication after it, [on] why decisions were made."  

Gainer said he thinks that his successor, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Drew Willison, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and Dine are making sure everybody understands their different responsibilities, "so not everybody runs after the ball."  He added, "You know, sometimes you have to maintain your situational awareness where you're at."  

Gainer, a former chief of the Capitol Police, believes the Navy Yard incident demonstrated there had to be more communication between the command of the department, middlemen and front-line responders. It developed more conversations about an active shooter situation, he said, and what role CERT has with other first responders.  

Lawmakers reflecting on Capitol Hill's response to the Navy Yard shooting have been more concerned about the confusion  created by a 3 p.m. lockdown order. Gainer ordered a lockdown of the Senate more than six hours after Aaron Alexis fired his first shots in Southeast Washington, while Irving found no compelling reason to restrict access or shelter in place at the time. Their divergent decisions created an awkward situation that afternoon.  

The "discord" made members of Congress uncomfortable, Gainer acknowledged, and made the day more difficult for the Capitol Police. Gainer emphasized his great respect for Irving during the interview, and explained that they disagreed on what was best for their respective chambers.  

"I think the conversations we've had since then will avoid those types of differences," Gainer told CQ Roll Call, "but as you know, they are two different institutions that approach things a little bit differently."  

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