Ney Criticizes Security Change

Posted November 3, 2003 at 6:50pm

Revised screening procedures resulted in long lines for many Congressional staffers arriving for work Monday morning and drew the ire of House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), whose committee has oversight of the Capitol Police.

“There’s no procedure that had to be changed. The [police] chief is getting ahead of himself,” Ney said in a Monday afternoon telephone interview while in his Ohio district.

The modifications require visitors and staff to wait for their belongings to pass through an X-ray machine before they are allowed to walk through magnetometers. The policy was developed from a weekend review session prompted by Thursday’s well-publicized incident in which two House staffers inadvertently caused a lockdown of the Cannon House Office Building when they passed through a security area with a toy gun and a police officer failed to notice the gun’s image on an X-ray screen until after the aides had left the area.

Ney raised concerns that Gainer had not informed him of the policy change before its implementation Monday morning, and said he spoke with House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood about “rectifying” the process.

“People can be more attentive, but for the chief to randomly, frankly without talking to me, to slow things down, is premature,” Ney said, and later added: “The Speaker of the House has told me 100 times he wants the place safe and secure and he wants the House to be open to people … but the chief, in assessing this on his own, is jumping ahead of the situation. There doesn’t need to be an extreme delay.”

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer defended the modifications, asserting they will have a limited effect on the screening process.

“There was a misunderstanding on how long the process would actually take, and I don’t believe it will take that much longer,” Gainer said through a spokeswoman. “The Congressman has been both professionally and personally supportive and we can work through anything.”

In fact, despite the disagreement over screening, the Capitol Police won praise for vastly improving their ability to disseminate information during another incident at the Cannon Building on Monday in which a suspect broke a window with a brick.

Before instituting the current procedures, Gainer initially proposed slowing down the belts on which items pass through the X-ray machines to give officers more time to view items. However, the machines have not been altered.

A Capitol Police spokeswoman acknowledged the new procedures could slow the screening process, but noted they should improve security in the House and Senate office buildings.

“We’re aware of human error and that is why the belt has not been slowed down, the process has,” Jessica Gissubel said. “All that’s being done is to assure that officers are able to visually inspect the packages on the machine prior to having someone enter [the metal detector].”

Both the House Administration panel and the Capitol Police Board, the law enforcement agency’s governing body, are conducting reviews of the Thursday incident to determine, what, if anything, can be done to improve security.

Ney, who has repeatedly praised the work of rank-and-file officers in search for what was originally believed to be a male gunman, declined to say whether any officers involved in the incident would be disciplined or possibly terminated.

“In the next 48 hours we’re going to assess who did their job, whether they did or they didn’t,” Ney said. “We need to make sure the system works as it’s supposed to.”

A spokeswoman for Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle, who chairs the Police Board, said there are no plans to reverse security procedures, which were also modified in Senate office buildings on Monday.

“We’ve improved the enforcement of existing procedures,” the spokeswoman said.

House Administration ranking member John Larson (D-Conn.) could not be reached for comment.

Despite the disagreement on screening procedures, Ney, as well as many staffers, praised the Capitol Police for their improvements in disseminating information on an incident in which a suspect hurled a brick into a window near the Cannon Rotunda entrance.

Many of the more than 140 House Members with offices in Cannon were critical of the law enforcement agency’s ability to get information to them and their staffs during the Thursday gun scare.

In response, the police created a new post for emergency communications, to handle distribution of BlackBerry e-mail and annunciator messages. Much like an incident commander — a senior officer in charge of a crime scene or other incident — the new communications post is not permanent assignment.

The Monday incident occurred around noon when the suspect, 46-year-old Jasper Crown, picked up a brick and threw it at the Cannon doors. When it failed to cause damage, Crown allegedly picked the brick up again and threw it into a window.

The Capitol Police issued an e-mail alert at 12:24 p.m., with basic information noting the incident and subsequent arrest, as well as an annunciator message.

“That’s the way the system ought to work,” Ney said.

During the Thursday incident, Members complained they did not receive information for nearly 40 minutes, and many first learned of the search for a suspect through television reports.

Crown, who has no fixed address, will be charged with destruction of government property.