Gainer Seeks to Consolidate Checkpoints

Posted September 8, 2004 at 6:27pm

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer, in an attempt to improve traffic flow in the area, said his department is seeking to consolidate some of the 14 vehicle checkpoints erected across the Congressional grounds last month.

“We’ve presented [the city] with a plan to streamline the security checkpoints on Second Street in particular,” Gainer said in a recent interview.

Under the proposal, Gainer explained, the number of checkpoints would be reduced to 12 by eliminating two stops located along Second Street Southeast and Northeast.

In addition, the remaining Second Street checkpoints would be moved east one block. The new vehicle stops would be located at Constitution Avenue and Third Street Northeast, and Independence Avenue and Third Street Southeast.

Because the new checkpoints would be located on city-owned streets — unlike those avenues within the Capitol grounds, which are under the exclusive control of Congress — the law enforcement agency must receive the District of Columbia’s approval before it can move forward.

Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D), confirmed that city officials had received the proposal.

“We’re still reviewing it. The situation is fairly complex so it needs to be looked at carefully and evaluated,” Gang said, who noted that discussions will likely involve the mayor, as well as City Administrator Robert Bobb and other District officials.

Although the checkpoints would be located on city property, Capitol Police Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford, the department’s spokeswoman, noted the stops would still be within the agency’s “extended jurisdiction,” an area that is bounded by Third Street on the west and Seventh Street on the east.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) declined Wednesday to comment on the proposal because she had not seen it, but encouraged the Capitol Police to work with the city government.

“I hope the lesson of consultation has been learned. Beyond that, [Gainer] doesn’t just need to move them, he needs to streamline them,” said Norton, who had criticized the department in early August for installing the checkpoints without consulting city officials beforehand.

The lawmaker said her staff is monitoring traffic congestion on Capitol Hill, and called the Tuesday afternoon rush hour along the House side of the campus “an unholy mess.”

“[Gainer] created a dangerous situation,” Norton said. “This is an orange alert. You don’t want to create a situation where if something happens, you have … clogged-up traffic.”

Norton also asserted that Capitol Police need to revise the system for traffic checks, suggesting that only those vehicles fitting the profile for a potential truck or car bomb could be searched.

“He is having to essentially rush through every car, so that during rush hour they’re barely able to look at the backseats,” Norton said. “They should be looking at the larger vehicles that are the target of their concerns.”

She added: “Because they can’t risk a complete stoppage of traffic, they essentially are allowing cars to go through with a cursory look.”

Capitol Police instituted the checkpoints in early August, prompted by a Homeland Security Department announcement citing potential terrorist threats to financial institutions in Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey.

Although the announcement did not list the Capitol among potential sites, Congressional law enforcement officials have repeatedly voiced concerns that the building remains a likely target.