The State of the Union night car chase that ended without arrest added new strains to already tense relationships inside the law enforcement community on Capitol Hill.
Capitol Police officers who were disturbed and embarrassed by the Jan. 20 incident allege it's part of a frustrating pattern. They say commanders have instructed the rank and file to refrain from "low-value" stops — including traffic violations involving drunk driving and drug impairment on streets around the Capitol campus, multiple sources confirmed — because those arrests do not contribute to thwarting terrorism and protecting Congress.
Within the Capitol, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin were frustrated when they were unable to get an accurate portrayal of the facts about the high-speed chase that ended on Washington Avenue Southwest, adjacent to the Rayburn House Office Building.
Tensions came to a head during the late January Capitol Police Board meeting with Chief Kim C. Dine and Deputy Chief Daniel B. Malloy, according to a source with knowledge of the conversations, because of a perceived lack of information from the scene. Discussions about communication between commanders and the troops are ongoing.
In the midst of the State of the Union address, department brass overruled the supervisor on the scene with an order not to arrest a driver who police say violated multiple traffic laws, including blowing through red lights at speeds of up to 60 mph with no driver's license.
"You cannot have a police department that you don’t allow to police," said one department official, who reached out to CQ Roll Call after the car chase to accuse Capitol Police of internal problems and a "culture of micromanaging" that discourages officers from responding to crimes or making arrests before seeking approval from their supervisors.
Capitol Police officials refused to take the driver of the white Crown Victoria into custody, leaving police who initiated the pursuit in Maryland with no power to execute an arrest. The order not to arrest provoked harsh words among officers on the scene, who blamed Capitol Police for allowing a criminal to flee without running his tags or identification to check for outstanding warrants.
“There is no mutual aid anymore,” said the official, a 13-year veteran of Capitol Police who is frustrated by the low priority leadership places on patrolling, especially in the extended jurisdiction.
"Last time I checked it's not the 'Capitol counter-terrorism unit,' it's the Capitol Police," the official said, "and you are not allowing them to do their job."
Capitol Police officials stand by their assessment the driver did not pose a threat to State of the Union security, and have since said the white Crown Victoria could have been a diversion in a larger terror plot.
Capitol Police spokesman Shennell Antrobus defended the evening's events in a statement to CQ Roll Call, and hailed the force's 408 arrests in 2014 as "a product of the vigilance of our outstanding men and women who protect the Capitol Complex every day."
“The United States Capitol Police proudly supports the Congressional Community by ensuring safety and security during nights such as the State of the Union," Antrobus said in an email. "Our security perimeter worked and prevented the individual from entering the inner perimeter while the [Capitol Police] provided security to the three branches of government."
Antrobus also noted the Capitol Police has helped the Metropolitan Police Department with 70 calls for service over the past six months.
Weeks after the car chase, after-action meetings are underway with the department’s criminal investigations unit.
District Heights Police Chief Elliott W. Gibson reported that his suburban Maryland department obtained a traffic warrant and arrested the man on Jan. 23, three days after the chase. Gibson told CQ Roll Call on Feb. 3 that District Heights had decided not to release any more information on the matter, including the name of the suspect, citing "an ongoing investigation."
Rank-and-file officers and union leaders draw parallels between State of the Union night order not to arrest and other embarrassing incidents under Dine's tenure. They include the "stand down" controversy that provoked the Capitol Police Board to review the department's response to the Sept. 16, 2013, shooting at Washington's Navy Yard and the Oct. 3, 2013, shooting of Miriam Carey — an incident that is still under internal review and has attracted a wrongful death lawsuit .
Lacking faith in Dine's leadership, the Capitol Police official and half a dozen other officers of various rank who spoke to CQ Roll Call on the condition of anonymity said they would vote "no confidence" in the chief. Police union leaders are considering such a vote among their 960 members. It would be a difficult position for Dine, in the job for two years and two months. He was sworn in on Dec. 17, 2012, after a 37-year law enforcement career that began with D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department. He succeeded Phillip Morse, who held the post for more than five years.
Many members of the Hill's law enforcement community are concerned the Capitol Police, which has more manpower than any other federal law enforcement force in the nation's capital, no longer feels empowered to take action when public safety is threatened, pointing to instances when officers have been disciplined for enforcing the law.
One former Capitol Police officer, who resigned last year to take a job with another department, shared two incidents he described as frustrating, saying he was negatively singled out for policing during his nearly seven years in the House Division.
While working a traffic post one night, this officer arrested a man who failed a field sobriety test on charges of driving under the influence. He said the night after the arrest, he was pulled off patrol by a captain who wanted to talk “about what all the repercussions are when we make an arrest for Capitol Police,” including how it affects manpower and overtime. He was advised the primary goal is protection of the Capitol, and said he was told, “We’re not out here to arrest people.”
In another instance, he said he was docked eight hours of vacation for pursuing what was reported as a hit-and-run.
“The call was a car ran a red light and hit a moped,” he said. The crash took place southeast of the Capitol, within the department’s jurisdiction. He said the policy “was you could pursue if serious bodily injury or death [occurred],” so he chased, eventually being called off the pursuit because the driver was traveling too fast for police to keep up. He said it was later determined the moped hit the car, and the officer was disciplined for violating policy “where we chased, for, what was in their eyes a misdemeanor.”
“I had to do what was right in my mind,” the officer told CQ Roll Call. He said in some instances, the prospect of discipline conflicted with carrying out out his sworn duty to protect Congress and Hill visitors.
Documents obtained by CQ Roll Call show other officers have been charged with insubordination for not obeying orders to immediately return to the Capitol while making traffic stops in neighborhoods adjacent to the Hill. The premise is that officers are encouraged to enforce the law, but not when it means sacrificing the security of the Capitol to conduct an arrest. Or in specific terms, don't drop a posting on the Senate side to respond to disorderly conduct at Union Station if it might allow a deranged and potentially dangerous person to roam the Capitol grounds. In 1992, several violent crimes near the Hill — including the fatal shooting of a 25-year-old aide to Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., the robbery of then-Rep. Bob Traxler, D-Mich., and the robbery at gunpoint of two House interns —motivated Congress to expand the arrest power of the Capitol Police beyond the grounds.
Lawmakers voted to give the Capitol Police authority in an extended jurisdiction, stretching roughly from Seventh Street Northeast to Third Street Southwest, and bound to the west by H Street Northwest and east by Potomac Avenue Southeast and P Street Southwest. The legislation tripled the cops' patrol zone, Roll Call reported at the time.
But guarding Congress, especially in a post-9/11 world, also means Capitol Police have a mission unique among urban departments, operating as a security policing agency. That involves protective details for members, bomb squads and intelligence, in addition to the hundreds of cops who spend their shifts at fixed posts, screening visitors and staff for weapons. Lawmakers who hold the purse strings for the department pressure police to devote more resources to solving bottlenecks and opening more access points around the campus.
In addition to that political pressure, officers are subject to intense scrutiny of their interactions with the public during high-profile hearings and large demonstrations on the grounds. They face pressure to protect protesters' First Amendment rights while keeping the Capitol safe.
Nine days after the State of the Union address, Sen. John McCain was outraged with Capitol Police’s delayed response when CodePink protesters approached former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other witnesses during an Armed Services hearing. After the Arizona Republican committed to "raising hell," Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri talked to Larkin and Dine about the incident, and police beefed up their presence at the next contentious hearings.
In a time of fiscal austerity, those demands are costly. When protesters staged D.C.-wide demonstrations related to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the Capitol Police drafted officers to work overtime. Months of this practice stressed the budget, and the department may have to ask appropriators to reprogram what sources say could be as much as $5 million.
As the State of the Union chase remains under scrutiny, officers are worried the department won't be able to justify its $348 million budget if it can't perform basic police work.
One source suggested a 2014 drug overdose in Lower Senate Park might have been averted if Capitol Police were better patrolling the area. Shortly after noon on June 27, officers got a report there was an unconscious man in Lower Senate Park . Working in coordination with the Metropolitan Police Department, officers cordoned off the northern third of the park with crime scene tape to investigate, closing Delaware Avenue between Massachusetts Avenue and C Street in Northeast D.C.
Early reports suggested the homeless man may have died as a result of exposure to elements on the 85-degree day. CQ Roll Call has learned that Thomas L. Thomas died of an accidental drug overdose. According to the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Thomas had a lethal mix of heroin and methadone in his body.
The source suggested the previously unreported overdose is just one example of how Dine and Malloy's leadership style can endanger the Capitol complex. "These guys they are just — they are going to get somebody killed," the source said.
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