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Officer Morale a Hot Topic for Capitol Police at Appropriations Hearing

Wasserman Schultz worries low morale among Capitol Police could distract from protecting the complex. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Low morale among Capitol Police was a hot topic for law enforcement officials on Wednesday during a series of panels convened by the House lawmakers who set the department's budget.  

Both House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving and Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine fielded questions about low officer morale from longtime Legislative Branch appropriator Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the subcommittee's top Democrat. She professed a "notable uptick" in the number of officers pulling her aside on the Hill to chat about internal department issues. "It's nearly impossible at this stage to miss that there are morale issues with your department," Wasserman Schultz said. "When those morale issues have not been addressed they play out in public, which is really not a comfortable place to have those grievances be aired."  

Wasserman Schultz referred to the State of the Union night car chase that ended without arrest, and asked both men if the department had been issued a specific directive to rein in from patrolling the community surrounding the Capitol. She asked if it was being clearly communicated how widely officers are expected to police and for what sorts of offenses.  

Irving said Capitol Police does conduct checks in its extended perimeter, but the top priority is policing the "inner perimeter." He also acknowledged that message might not be being communicated clearly. "I can assure you that there are ongoing conversations between the Capitol Police Board and the chief and his leadership to rectify that," he added.  

A few hours later, Dine gave his side of the story, saying morale was "critical to the agency" and important to him "both personally and professionally."  

"Last year, I met with officials around the clock in small groups of 20 or less just so I could hear them, listen to them, hear what they had to say, hear some of their concerns and also talk about where I want to take the police department," Dine said, noting that this sometimes meant night and weekend work. He also said he is focused on improving communications between the executive team and the officers. "Communication is often the key to dispel issues, concerns, rumors and those kinds of things."  

Wasserman Schultz emphasized that she did not want morale to become a distraction "from protecting a complex that is as sensitive and critical as this one is."  

Dine said he hired a labor specialist whose "sole concern" is to track labor issues and revisit them on a weekly basis. Negotiations with the union over a new contract have been stalled for more than a year, according to the Capitol Police Labor Committee. Dine also said he had put together a "mentoring session" that received overwhelmingly positive feedback.  

Other members of the committee asked Dine about mutual aid with other departments, and the police force's request for a 16 percent increase in funds for general expenses, amounting to more than $71 million. Most of the increase relates to cost of living increases and training initiatives, plus the additional expense of staffing 2016 presidential conventions. There were also more gripes about the long security lines staffers face at the doors.  

"Frankly, as an agency we're pretty quiet about what we do every day," Dine said during the hearing. He then ticked off a long list of accomplishments from the previous fiscal year: 9.5 million screenings, more than 600 arrests, more than 125,000 canine sweeps, more than 25,000 offsite vehicle inspections, dozens of security outreach briefings, thousands of investigations regarding threats, packages and suspicious activity, and successfully managing hundreds of high-profile events, such as major protests.  

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