Members Pan ‘Army’ on Hill

Posted May 20, 2003 at 6:40pm

Hours before the Department of Homeland Security raised the nation’s threat level from “elevated” to “high,” members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch openly questioned the scope of the Capitol Police’s authority and the need for more officers.

Although Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, had the most acerbic comments, Chairman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and the rest of the panel questioned whether the force’s fiscal 2004 request is reasonable — both in terms of funding and the additional authority Police Chief Terrance Gainer has requested for the force.

Acknowledging that the budget request is “robust,” Gainer nonetheless called the nearly $300 million proposal “a necessary and balanced plan.”

Committee members were not so sure, and the hearing seemed to mark the end of a nearly two-year period in which additional funding for the force was appropriated almost without question.

Much of the skepticism centered on the department’s goal to expand from the current level of 1,437 sworn officers and 230 civilian personnel to 1,833 sworn officers and 573 civilian professionals by the end of fiscal 2004.

“We don’t have to worry about an invading army,” Moran told Gainer. “This is not a fortress. I don’t want to see this Congress funding a new army.”

When told that both House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle supported the staffing increases, Moran turned to Livingood and said: “You’re apparently a patron of the police chief. I have tremendous respect for you, Bill.”

Moran then made clear that he didn’t extend such respect to Gainer. He even questioned if Gainer had packed the room with Capitol Police officers on the clock, to which the chief responded that they were there on their own time of their own free will.

“We’ve got a police chief who wants to create his own army,” said Moran. “You’ve got officers training in Israel. You want to get involved in demonstrations that are clearly” the responsibility of the Metropolitan Police Department.

“I have no problems with what the Sergeant-at-Arms is doing, but I have a lot of problems with what you’re doing, Chief Gainer,” he added. “This Capitol Police situation needs a lot of scrutiny by this subcommittee.”

Scrutiny was certainly what the Capitol Police got. But as the hearing progressed it became evident that the chasm between the chief and appropriators was philosophical more than anything else.

The panel spent a lot of time discussing the use of the Capitol Police to check on Members’ homes in the Washington area. Kingston and Moran both made clear they were troubled by such use of resources, especially if Members themselves were requesting such protection.

“I don’t think they should be going out to houses,” Kingston said.

Gainer, however, made clear that the majority of such visits are made based on threat analysis, are often for Congressional leaders, and no Member is abusing the privilege. Protecting the legislative branch means protecting Members themselves, whether in the Capitol or at their homes in the area or back in the districts, Gainer said.

“It seemed incongruous that we’d do all we can to protect you on the days you’re here” but then do nothing when Members aren’t assembled in the Capitol, Gainer said, adding that usually means working with local police departments.

But the dispute over that issue was merely a precursor to the more heated talk about the Capitol Police’s request to carry their police powers outside the Capitol complex and immediate area.

Gainer would like the force to be able to take action where life and property are in jeopardy in a jurisdiction extending to the counties immediately outside of Washington. He said the U.S. Park Police have similar authority in the District.

“I’d rather fight the terrorists — and I still believe they are coming — outside of Congress rather than on the steps,” Gainer said.

The Capitol Police currently monitor and secure various locations in the Washington area, including alternate facilities that could be used in the event of a terrorist attack. “They are actually going out there with no authority,” he said of his officers.

Gainer emphasized, however, that officers would not be going to those jurisdictions any more than they are currently. Officers simply would have more authority when they happen to be off the Capitol campus.

The chief cited the example of a truck approaching the Capitol, saying that even if the Capitol Police knew it to be intending harm, they could do nothing to stop it. He also used the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building to illustrate his point; convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh, he said, was caught not on the grounds of the Alfred P. Murrah Building, but by state troopers outside of the immediate area.

Gainer also said he called every major law-enforcement chief in the area and “all of them were surprised that we don’t have that jurisdiction.”

Moran countered that he thought the force would run afoul of the Constitution if a legislative branch entity had such authority, to which Gainer replied: “I think attorneys, as I am, can argue both ways.”

Moran, however, was not convinced. “I think you are taking on a lot of additional responsibility,” he said.

Gainer assured the committee that such new powers would not require significant additional resources and said that it would actually greatly benefit the Capitol itself through better morale on the force and a greater ability to carry out their statutory authorities.

Pickle noted, “Expanded jurisdiction is a tool, that’s all it is. I think it can be managed well by this chief.”

Like Moran, Kingston questioned the Capitol Police sending officers to assist MPD with the recent International Monetary Fund and World Bank demonstrations, but Gainer deflected such criticism.

“The intelligence at that point was that the anarchists [would be] just a stone’s throw away from here. And it was very good training for our officers and very good for morale,” Gainer said. “They needed the help, and I provided that. When I was [executive assistant chief at MPD] we brought eight platoons up to the Capitol for inauguration,” Gainer said, explaining that Congress benefits from the Metro police much more than the other way around. Last year, he said, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of officer hours were spent helping Metro.

The overriding issue, though, was clearly how big should the Capitol Police be.

“Where we get constant criticism as a body is excesses,” Kingston said, adding that the perception is, “We’re not funding education … but look at what we’re doing to protect ourselves.”

Pickle — who said he didn’t “want the chief to be the only one getting beat up here today” — responded that the Capitol Police Board was initially as surprised as the committee when they saw the staffing figures Gainer requested. But after scrubbing them “substantially,” Pickle, Livingood and Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman, the third member of the board, agreed they simply reflected what the force needs to protect the institution it serves.

“The dilemma we have is only respond to the demands of Congress. Safety is paramount to this institution,” Pickle said.

After the hearing, House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) defended the Capitol Police’s need for more officers. Last year, his committee authorized the force to be a total of 1,981 sworn officers and civilians.

“We didn’t just up the numbers to up them,” Ney said. “Livingood never brought me an inflated set of numbers. They brought what they felt they needed.

“If a high type of crisis comes here … you just can’t create [officers] overnight.”