Policy

Capitol Hill's New Top Cop

Verderosa promises to keep an open mind

Matthew Verderosa is interviewed by CQ Roll Call at police headquarters. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Three decades in Capitol Police can be a lifetime.  

Matthew R. Verderosa has lived it from the vantage point of a patrolman, an administrator and an internal affairs hawk.  

He was on the force for the shooting death of two officers in 1998 and for the fatal shooting of a woman who crashed her car into a Capitol Hill barricade in 2013.  

He was on the force for the mad scramble to secure the Capitol on 9/11 and for the department's shift afterward from a group of guardsmen to a security agency tackling daily threat assessments.  

Now, Verderosa is inheriting a department that was so riven with scandal last year that its outgoing chief offered his resignation. There were meltdowns with the union, threats from members of Congress and high-profile gaffes that made it a punch line on late night television.  

Verderosa, 54, who takes on the role of Capitol Police chief Monday, promised to tackle challenges with an open mind but a staunch obedience to the rules of the force.  

What Went Wrong for Kim Dine

“While I may be firm on some issues, I’m certainly open-minded enough to look at new ways of policing,” Verderosa said in an interview with Roll Call. “We take people’s suggestions very seriously so they have a voice.”  

His former bosses, including several who promoted him within the ranks, describe him as an even-keeled officer who could calmly navigate the intricacies of House administration for 435 members of Congress and their staff.  

“It is not an easy place to work because there are a lot of bosses,” said Terry Gainer, who led the department from 2002 to 2006 and later served as Senate sergeant-at-arms.  

Past and present members of the department’s Labor Committee commended his leadership. But, given his roles in both disciplinary efforts and internal investigations, they say they are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether he can restore relations with the union and raise the gutted morale of the rank and file.  

Sitting beside outgoing Chief Kim C. Dine at police headquarters in Washington on Friday, Verderosa said his focus is to continue pushing the department’s core mission: Keep the legislative branch functioning properly.  

From securing high-profile visits to Capitol Hill by the pope and the president to the humdrum of checking identification at doors for tens of thousands of staff, Capitol Police’s 1,729 sworn police officers protect a 47-block jurisdiction.  

Verderosa, takes over after a series of incidents that called into question Dine’s leadership, with both Republicans and Democrats demanding answers to flaws in the agency’s practices.  

In October 2013, a Capitol Police officer was involved in the death of Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old Connecticut woman who was shot outside the Capitol following a high-speed chase from a White House checkpoint. No criminal charges were filed against the Capitol Police and Secret Service officers involved, but House appropriators grilled Dine on the circumstances of the shooting.  

Last year, Dine drew criticism for the failure to arrest a robbery suspect who led police on a high-speed chase toward the Capitol as President Barack Obama was delivering the State of the Union address. Three cases of officers leaving guns in bathrooms around the Capitol had late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel weighing in.  

As he exits, Dine focused on the successes of his three-year stint: The 2013 inauguration of Obama, a historic visit by the pope to a joint session of Congress in 2015, replenishing the ranks, operational advancements and revamping hiring practices.  

There was also the challenge of leading the department through both a government shutdown and sequestration – something Dine said probably hasn’t happened in a single chief’s tenure.  

Incidents that sparked outrage – such as the April 2015 landing of a gyrocopter on the West Front of the Capitol – didn’t faze Dine, who said his department acted properly.  

“It couldn’t have ended better when you look at the results,” Dine said, noting that no one was hurt and the person was immediately arrested.  

Dine, 62, submitted a resignation letter that same month, which the Capitol Police Board ultimately rejected. He is now retiring from the force, but doesn't feel like he was forced out.  

“It’s time to turn over the reins,” he said.  

In their sit-down interview, Verderosa and Dine appeared comfortable, even congratulatory, toward each other, as they answered questions matter-of-factly.  

Gainer, who helped select Dine, praised his tenure. He also tapped Verderosa to be his chief of staff at the Capitol Police.  

He said Verderosa had a hand in expanding the department after 9/11 that resulted in a bigger bomb squad and hazardous materials departments following incidents involving anthrax and ricin sent to office buildings by mail.  

The department also expanded its command center and established links to other local federal law enforcement agencies to improve communication.  

“He got the need for that type of proactive policing,” Gainer said.  

The Capitol Police force's rapid expansion -- its budget had quadrupled since 9/11 while other Legislative Branch agencies have seen their funds flatlined -- has now drawn questions from lawmakers.  

Verderosa will have to defend a request for more police officers, increased pay and enhanced security measures, leaving some lawmakers to wonder how much more the department needs.  

"I have seen many, many bells and whistles that are available to Capitol Police," Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said at a recent budget hearing.  

Former Chief Phillip Morse, who retired in May 2012, said Verderosa could help bridge gaps between rank-and-file and upper management because he began his career as a patrolman on Capitol Hill.  

“You have someone who actually worked the street,” Morse said. “He knows how that feels but he also knows the sense of pride, responsibility and accountability in carrying the badge and the gun.”  

Despite his start as a patrolman, many rank-and-file officers now know Verderosa as an administrator and disciplinarian.  

Verderosa, who previously led the Disciplinary Review Task Force, said the process is necessary to protect the institution and comply with its own rules.  

“No one likes to be held accountable,” he said. “I understand that people don’t like to be disciplined, but there are things that are just not going to be tolerated.”  

That role as the leader of disciplinary review could affect Verderossa’s relationship with the police union, which helps defend officers who have complaints filed against them.  

Gus Papathanasion, the Capitol Police Labor Committee’s first vice chairman, said the committee’s dealings with Verderosa have resulted in both agreements and disagreements, without going into detail about personnel matters that are often confidential.  

Papathanasion said aside from changes to its disciplinary approach, union leaders are lobbying for pay increases for existing staff on top of cost of living increase. They are also advocating for increasing an officer’s retirement age from 57 to 60 as a way to reap better benefits.  

Papathanasion said he hoped Verderosa would turn things around.  

“Only time will tell,” Papathanasion said. “Hopefully he could make some positive changes.”  

Contact Rahman at remarahman@cqrollcall.com or follow her on Twitter at @remawriter

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