Panel Seeks to ‘Rein in’ Chief

Posted June 18, 2004 at 6:39pm

Questioning what they are calling Terrance Gainer’s “frequent and uncoordinated” appearances in the media, House appropriators are seeking to dim the Capitol Police chief’s spotlight.

In an effort to limit the chief’s numerous press interviews, members of the Appropriations Committee are requesting new guidelines governing how the law enforcement agency handles its media relations.

A draft of the report that will accompany the fiscal 2005 legislative branch spending bill states: “The Committee is concerned by frequent and uncoordinated publicity appearances by the Chief of the Capitol Police.”

The draft calls for the four committees with oversight of the agency — House and Senate Appropriations, House Administration and Senate Rules and Administration — to consult with the Capitol Police Board on setting new rules restricting the media’s access to the chief.

“In the future, public pronouncements by the Chief should be coordinated through the Capitol Police Board,” the report states.

The new guidelines aren’t intended to serve as a blanket gag rule for the Capitol Police, but rather as a “subtle reminder” of existing guidelines, noted Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who chairs his chamber’s Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch.

“We’re just trying to rein things in a little bit,” Kingston added.

The Georgia lawmaker asserts that the Capitol Police should respond to press inquires and provide information, but suggested that the department does not need to stage press conferences or issue other unprompted public statements.

“There’s been a lot of discussion from Members about agency heads talking to the press,” Kingston said.

Instead, the chairman explained, Congressional oversight committees, such as the House Administration panel, should serve as the primary mouthpieces for legislative branch agencies.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Gainer defended his actions, citing his public appearances as “necessary.”

“There are procedures and guidelines in place. My public posture is necessary as well as informative and is used mainly to relay important messages to the public, my officers and any adversaries, especially during these times,” Gainer said. “I am willing to work with the committees to assuage any of their concerns.”

A Capitol Police spokeswoman added that under existing media guidelines, the department issues informal notifications to both the Police Board and the oversight committees any time Gainer grants a media interview — although some House aides dispute that statement, saying that rule is not followed. The department also maintains a log of the chief’s media appearances that is distributed to the same group on a daily basis.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle, who serves on the Capitol Police Board along with Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman and House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, expressed surprise over the proposal.

“As a member of the board, I think the chief is a very professional law enforcement officer. He is doing exactly what a police chief should do,” Pickle said.

While the board expects to be notified of press conferences, the body does not need to be told about “spontaneous interviews,” Pickle said.

“When there’s something of significance or a policy matter, the chief, before he does a press conference, has been instructed to make sure the board is aware of it,” Pickle said, later adding: “He is used to appearing before the public. He is used to being a spokesperson for his department. I think he is doing it in a very measured and appropriate manner.”

A spokeswoman for the Senate Rules Committee echoed Pickle’s sentiments about Gainer’s behavior.

“Chief Gainer is the ultimate law enforcement professional. It’s vital that he have the flexibility to communicate with the community as circumstances warrant,” said Susan Irby, a spokeswoman for Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.). “We haven’t seen the House language but I cannot imagine wanting to hamstring the Capitol Police chief in carrying out his official duties.”

Officer Ron Potter, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee, similarly criticized the proposal, suggesting that it could damage the morale of rank-and-file officers.

“It actually helps morale to see your chief on TV and on radio speaking on behalf of your department. … I don’t know why they would want to keep that from occurring,” Potter said.

He added that such appearances, which Gainer often makes during large-scale events such as last week’s funeral services for former President Ronald Reagan, can also serve as a deterrent to terrorist or other attacks on the Capitol.

Before Gainer took over the department in 2001, Potter noted, previous Capitol Police chiefs rarely appeared in the public eye.

“For years, you didn’t even know who the chief of the Capitol Police was, because all you knew was the [public information] officer,” Potter said. “We never ever saw our leader out there speaking on our behalf. … It was welcome and refreshing to see Chief Gainer be able to at least express his opinions of our department in a public forum.”

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) acknowledged that Gainer’s numerous appearances have sparked discussion among lawmakers in his chamber, but he said the issue was not a serious concern.

“In principle, I understand what the Appropriations Committee is saying,” Ney said, and later added: “It’s the fact that if he’s going to be out there … it would be good if there was some coordination.”