Set an Example

Posted August 8, 2003 at 2:29pm

Despite all the security upgrades undertaken in the Capitol since the shooting of two police officers in 1998 and in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the building and its occupants remain vulnerable to just the sort of incident that took place last month in New York’s City Hall.

Members of Congress routinely wave their guests past metal detectors just the way Brooklyn City Councilman James Davis did with political rival Othniel Askew, who was carrying a gun and killed Davis and then was shot dead by a police officer.

It ought to stop. Whether it will remains to be seen. The Sergeants-at-Arms of the House and Senate, Bill Livingood and Bill Pickle, sent out memos to Members and staff after the New York incident reminding them that — as Livingood put it — “All persons, including those escorted by a Member of Congress, must undergo the security screening process.” His memo went on, “Your cooperation and assistance in enforcing this policy are essential and greatly appreciated. This policy makes the Capitol and office buildings a safer place for all who work and visit here.”

Pickle, who also referenced vehicle and mail monitoring procedures, wrote that “screening of staff and visitors is a key element of our overall security program. Your active participation in these necessary security procedures is important to maintaining a safe and secure environment.”

As Roll Call reported July 30, the Capitol Police Board is reviewing its screening procedures following the New York shooting, but it is unlikely to come up with a requirement that everyone, including Members, go through metal detectors. At least one influential Senator is for that idea, however — Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, who said, “We ought to all go through the metal detection device, including the Senators.”

This is the practice now in place in New York, led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R). We’d hope that it could become practice here without adoption of a new rule. We’d like to permit leeway so that if Members are in a hurry — say, rushing to a vote — they shouldn’t have to empty their pockets on the way to the floor when traveling without visitors.

But when accompanied by visitors or staff members who are required to go through detectors, Members should set a good example by also getting screened. Some Members will be tempted to pull rank on Capitol Police who insist that their visitors be screened. For the sake of everyone’s safety, including their own, they should put up with the inconvenience.