Abduction May Prompt Expansion

Posted October 10, 2003 at 6:14pm

It appears that the abduction and robbery of a Senator’s wife could play an important role in future discussions about expanding the Capitol Police Department’s powers beyond its current boundaries.

While the law enforcement agency does not plan to exploit the recent abduction of the wife of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a spokeswoman said the incident represents a prime example of why the department would like to extend its legal authority throughout the District of Columbia and into some Virginia and Maryland suburbs.

“We hope to revisit the jurisdiction policy in the future, and again, this is an example that does stand out,” said Capitol Police spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel.

Two men robbed the Greggs’ McLean, Va., home Tuesday morning and demanded money from the Senator’s wife, Kathy, while displaying a knife, according to Fairfax County Police reports. The pair later drove Kathy Gregg to a nearby bank, forced her to withdraw money and then fled. The suspects, Michael Pierre, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md., and Christopher Forbes, 31, were arrested Wednesday in Carteret, N.J.

During the search for the suspects, Capitol Police worked in conjunction with the Fairfax County department and also provided 24-hour surveillance of the Gregg home.

“We assisted in any way that we could,” Gissubel said, “whether it be attempting to gather information [or] ensuring the safety of the Senator and his spouse.”

Nonetheless, Gissubel noted, the incident also demonstrated the constraints of the Capitol Police, who do not have legal authority outside their current area, which covers much of Capitol Hill.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer outlined plans earlier this year to extend the department’s jurisdiction beyond the current area, bounded by H street on the east and P and F streets on the west, Third street to the north and Seventh Street to the south.

The plan received mixed reaction from Members, and although Congress expanded the department’s jurisdiction in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch appropriations bill — adding areas along the National Mall between Third and 14th streets and Constitution and Independence avenues — it limited the expansion to the agency’s truck interdiction program.

Capitol Police officials are pleased with the expanded truck interdiction program, Gissubel said, but still consider the jurisdiction issue a “priority.”

Mike DeCarlo, who heads the Capitol Police Labor Committee, could not comment on what effect last week’s incident might have on future discussions about jurisdiction, but noted: “Does it show another example why we need it? Absolutely.”

Although the police primarily patrol inside the agency’s boundaries, DeCarlo said officers are often required to leave the area to perform security checks on Members’ homes in the District, Maryland or Virginia.

“My officers routinely are required to perform functions that take them outside the boundaries of our jurisdiction,” DeCarlo said.

While traveling to or from those destinations, DeCarlo noted, the officers have no legal authority other than to make a “citizen’s arrest” or contact another police department.

“My guys are driving around in marked police cars, in uniform … and they’re helpless to stop and help anybody.”

For example, DeCarlo explained, if an officer sees an intoxicated person driving erratically, he cannot pull the driver over, despite being in a marked police car.

“These are the things these officers are faced with,” he said. “Most officers will take action anyway, but when they do, they’re on their own. There’s no protection for them at that point.”

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said the incident “certainly should” play a role in any discussions about extending the agency’s legal authority.

“We do not know if these ‘thugs’ knew [Gregg] was a Member of the Senate and we better find out,” Norton said. “In the era of 9/11 we need to find out … and those who are in the best position to find out and make that judgment are the Capitol Police.”

Norton, who worked to secure the previous expansion of the Capitol Police’s jurisdiction in 1992, added: “You don’t protect the Members by just protecting the Capitol’s grounds.”

Still, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who serves as ranking member on the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, said he expects Gregg’s experience will have little impact on the jurisdiction discussion.

“It’s going to be done anyway, so it’s a moot issue,” said Moran, who had previously voiced opposition to the expansion. “They’re allowed to deal with issues involving Members and their families already. This is just to be able to conduct other policing functions.”

The Capitol Police are currently formulating a strategic plan, and once it is approved, Moran said the department will likely move to hire additional officers and then expand its jurisdiction.

“The Congress is probably going to support expanded jurisdiction,” he said, and later added: “We’ll have to talk it out. We’ll have to discuss it, he’ll make his recommendations and we’ll review it.”

Additionally, a Moran spokesman noted that even if the Capitol Police did have legal rights in McLean, it would not have curtailed Tuesday’s incident.

“Expanding the jurisdiction would not have prevented Mrs. Gregg’s unfortunate situation,” said spokesman Dan Drummond, who later added that the investigation was “a textbook case of the law enforcement entities working together and cooperating.”

The Virginia lawmaker has raised concerned that allowing enlarging the department’s jurisdiction could invoke constitutional violations and would also require additional training.

“Capitol Police would … essentially have to know different laws of the states, the local jurisdictions and the districts,” Drummond said.

No formal hearings or other meetings are currently scheduled on the jurisdiction issue, and one Republican House aide suggested earlier opposition from Moran and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who chairs of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, could stall any efforts.

“Unfortunately, Moran and Kingston have been vehemently opposed to this. Until they budge a little, it may be difficult to move forward with this,” the aide said. Kingston’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

In the meantime, informal discussions have continued with Members who back the proposal, including House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio).

“The chairman remains supportive of exploring this and continues to work closely with Chief Gainer,” said Ney spokesman Brian Walsh. “The chairman sees this as a common-sense proposal. If there’s a crime being committed across the street, currently the police can’t act.”

Sen. Gregg’s office did not return calls seeking comment, but the New Hampshire lawmaker said in a statement Thursday: “We are grateful for the outstanding efforts of the Fairfax County Police, the New Jersey police, the Capitol Police, the FBI and all who have been involved in expeditiously finding these perpetrators and helping bring them to justice.”

Capitol Police officials indicated that the incident did not result in any immediate plans to increase security for Members’ spouses.

“This was an isolated incident. This was a criminal act. … This wasn’t a terrorist act. This was a violent criminal act and it can happen to anybody at any time,” Gissubel said.