Lott, Larson Back Security Modifications

Posted November 4, 2003 at 6:38pm

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Tuesday he is in agreement with Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer’s decision to modify security screening procedures following a gun scare in the Cannon House Office Building last week.

“I think the police have latitude to do that on their own,” Lott said, noting that his own staff “had a lot more trouble getting in this morning.”

Police officials elected to enhance current security procedures — requiring visitors and staff to wait for their belongings to pass completely through X-ray machines before walking through magnetometers — following last Thursday’s incident in which two House staffers inadvertently caused a lockdown of the Cannon Building. The two aides in Rep. John Shimkus’ (R-Ohio) office had 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 staffers had left the area.

The decision drew the ire Monday of House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who questioned the need to “slow down” the screening process. Ney, like Lott, heads a committee that oversees the Capitol Police.

Gainer has defended his decision, and police spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel asserted the modifications were not designed to slow down or to speed up the screening process.

“The focus was on officers to take the extra second if they need it to process what’s coming through,” she said.

In fact, several officers on duty in the Cannon Building on Tuesday said they appreciated having additional time to view X-ray images and match items to visitors and Hill staff.

House Administration ranking member John Larson (D-Conn.), who said he expects Ney and Gainer will be able to work out their differences, also approved of the changes.

“I’m happy to see they put the provisions into effect,” Larson said. “They’re responding to concerns that emanated from Thursday’s incident. … Obviously everyone believes that you can still do this in a timely fashion, but it’s also imperative that we follow the procedures, so you stop at the point of entry an incident that could have been prevented.”

The House Administration panel could complete its review of the Thursday incident as early as today.

“We want to make sure we’ve looked at everything thoroughly and address all the open-ended questions,” Larson said, later adding: “Hopefully this serves as an educational wake-up call.”

Mike DeCarlo, head of the Capitol Police Labor Committee, suggested that in addition to the 200 high-ranking officers called together to discuss security during a weekend meeting, many of the rank-and-file officers could provide useful suggestions during the reviews.

“The officers know best how to set up their posts and how to handle things that happen at their assignments, and we need to make sure we don’t overlook those resources,” DeCarlo said.

One possibility to improve security, DeCarlo noted, could be restricting additional entryways to staff and Members only, or closing some little-used entrances earlier in the day.

“We have some posts that are very redundant,” DeCarlo said. “We have them open until 8 o’clock at night and you don’t need them open that long.”

But Lott disagreed, asserting that many entrances have already been closed, and that even with additional restrictions “you’re not going to have 100 percent security. … [The officers] are still human beings.”

Gainer is scheduled to the House Democratic Caucus during its weekly meeting today. A GOP aide said the police chief briefed the Republican Conference just hours after Thursday’s incident ended, but could not confirm if the Republicans would receive another briefing.