Nearly two weeks after an on-the-job accident left an officer with a ruptured spleen and multiple strained ligaments, Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine and Labor Committee President Jim Konczos met to discuss the incident and its possible causes.
In a statement, Dine called Tuesday’s meeting “very productive.”
“[It] continues our efforts and commitments to regular communication,” Dine said of the relationship between management and the union just three months into his tenure as head of the department. “We remain committed to positive dialogue, two-way communication and problem solving.”
Konczos said that Dine, along with Assistant Chief Tom Reynolds, expressed a willingness to review the setup and protocols in place at the security checkpoints around the Capitol campus. On Feb. 13, a Capitol Police officer in pursuit of a car that had run through a red light drove his motorcycle into an automated barrier as it was being raised.
Konczos said the Capitol Police leaders also indicated that as part of their investigation into the incident, they would review the sequence of the traffic lights that are placed in sets of two at nearly all the checkpoints. With the first light flashing “red” about 25 feet from the next light flashing “green,” it’s the cause of frequent traffic violations, the union contends, with drivers inadvertently running red lights and compelling officers to pursue them.
Konczos said the union would not be satisfied until management agrees to reinstate the Capitol Police vehicles that used to be stationed at every checkpoint with an automated barrier. Known as “safety vehicles,” these cars would drive into the street as barriers went up, providing added protection to halt traffic and often eliminating the need for an officer to chase down an offending motorist.
These vehicles were taken out of circulation last summer in place of new technologies that would save money and allow a more effective distribution of limited manpower, Reynolds told CQ Roll Call on Monday.
Konczos and his colleagues in union leadership insist that the vehicles not only made officers feel safer working the checkpoints, but that they would have prevented the Feb. 13 accident. While the officer is now recovering at home, the scope of his injuries landed him in the hospital and necessitated surgery.
Reynolds, who was acting Capitol Police chief when the decision was made to remove the safety vehicles from the checkpoints, insisted that there was no correlation between the action and the officer’s injury, which took place during a drill at the intersection of Second Street and Independence Avenue Southeast.
Though the makeup of the Labor Committee has changed over the years, Reynolds also suggested that support for safety vehicles at checkpoints among current Labor Committee leaders marks somewhat of a reversal.
“They were concerned originally when we first placed the vehicles and officers on both Constitution and Independence Avenues back in January 2007,” Reynolds said of union representatives. “They felt that it was unsafe to have officers in these position on foot and in police vehicles.
“When the Department placed police vehicles and officers on the avenues, we did this knowing all along that we were going to replace them with different technologies to divert large vehicles away from the Capitol Complex,” he continued.
Going forward, Konczos said he hoped the department would continue its investigation and ultimately decide that safety vehicles can play a role in keeping officers out of harm’s way.
He did concede it might be an uphill battle. With the sequester set to hit Friday, the Capitol Police will be consumed with budget cuts and maintaining campus security with limited resources. It might mean that the return of safety vehicles would not even be financially or logistically feasible.