Gainer Frustrated By Merger
With Senate appropriators acknowledging that a merger between the Library of Congress and Capitol police forces has reached an impasse, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer asserted Wednesday that if a plan put forth by his department is not approved in a timely fashion, the merger should be abandoned.
“They either ought to approve our plan and have a meeting of the minds or they ought to end the process because it’s very time consuming and disruptive at the rate we’re going. [It’s] very frustrating,” Gainer said. The law-enforcement agency submitted a plan outlining the merger in August 2003, but none of the four committees with oversight of the department has endorsed the proposal yet.
Gainer made his remarks following a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, during which the full committee chairman, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), called for a meeting of key players to discuss the unification.
“We still have some real misunderstandings about the concept of integration of the force,” said Stevens, who suggested the meeting should take place following the spring recess.
“I do believe we have to integrate the police force of Capitol Hill and I want to make sure that the transition is done correctly,” Stevens added, noting the transition should not “upset the current needs of the Library.”
In anticipation of the initial stages of the merger, outlined in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch spending bill, Library of Congress officials put forth a detailed memorandum March 18 that would bring nearly two dozen Capitol Police officers largely under their control.
In a draft “Memorandum of Understanding,” LOC officials proposed policies governing a range of issues from uniforms to chain-of-command that would apply to 23 Capitol Police officers who are to be detailed to the Library in coming weeks.
The Capitol Police are preparing to assign those officers to the Library’s police force as mandated under the fiscal 2004 spending bill. That legislation restricts the Library from filling additional vacancies on its police force — which numbers approximately 130 officers — and directs the Capitol Police to hire and detail officers to occupy those empty posts.
In an interview prior to Wednesday’s hearing, Gainer criticized the memorandum, describing it as “a far cry from what needs to be implemented.”
“I was surprised that the MOU was not nearly as advanced as our previous conversations had been,” Gainer said, citing issues including uniforms and the experience of officers who will be detailed to the Library. “It almost looks as if the LOC thinks they’re absorbing us instead of the other way.”
Under the pending merger, the Library’s police force would be combined with the significantly larger Capitol Police Department, which claims more than 1,500 sworn officers. According to an implementation plan put forth by Capitol Police in August 2003, the Library would become the fourth division of the Capitol Police Uniformed Services Bureau, which is now comprised of House, Senate and Capitol divisions.
In the proposal offered by the Library for the initial phase, however, officers detailed to the LOC’s police force would serve under the direction of Librarian of Congress James Billington, rather than Gainer.
Additionally, the Library would maintain the right to terminate the detail of any Capitol Police officer who “is not performing acceptably as a member of the Library Police.”
“Detailed officers will enforce Library statutes and Library regulations, and will conduct their duties in accordance with Library regulations, policies, and procedures and with Library general and special orders and practices,” states the memorandum, a copy of which was obtained by Roll Call.
That directive echoes desires repeatedly stated by Billington in ongoing discussions over the unification of the two departments.
“The Capitol Police officers that serve on Library property must also be under the technical direction of and accountable to the Librarian of Congress,” the Librarian asserted in early March at a Senate legislative branch hearing.
The memorandum also focuses on the firearms and other weapons carried by officers.
Under the agreement, the Capitol Police officers assigned to Library facilities would be prohibited from carrying “pepper spray,” which Library officers are not currently permitted to brandish.
LOC officials declined to discuss the prohibition; however, one Library officer suggested the concerns center on whether the chemical sprays could enter air ducts in the buildings and damage items in the Library’s collections.
Additionally, the memorandum states that Library and Capitol Police officials will examine the possibility of “converting the detailed officers to Library standard issue weapons and special protective equipment.”
Similarly, detailed officers could be required to wear Library Police uniforms, or as an alternative, a “Library-specific device will be established for the uniform of detailed officers,” the memorandum states.
The Capitol Police would continue to provide training and equipment, but will not be reimbursed for the detailed officers, according to the proposed agreement.
It remains unclear whether either the Capitol Police or Library Police labor committees will be asked for input on the memorandum.
“Certainly it’s going to affect our members and the working conditions of our members,” said Officer Ron Potter, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee. Potter suggested Capitol Police officers may not be supportive of several of the provisions outlined in the agreement.
Mark Timberlake, treasurer of the Library Police Labor Committee, stated: “This is something we feel that USCP and LOC management needs to work out.”