Police May Reduce Checkpoints Post-Elections

Posted November 1, 2004 at 6:34pm

Although the majority of security procedures across Capitol Hill will not be relaxed following Election Day, Congressional law enforcement officials acknowledged Monday that a review of the more than one-dozen vehicle checkpoints will take place in coming weeks.

“The checkpoints will be re-evaluated after the elections,” Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said through a spokeswoman Monday.

Potential changes could range from a reduction in the number of checkpoints — the Capitol Police are currently in discussions with the city about consolidating some by relocating a handful to Third Street east of the Capitol — to how vehicle searches are conducted, noted Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford, a department spokeswoman.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle confirmed that the Capitol Police Board and department officials have discussed “modifications to the checkpoints,” but said no changes have been approved.

“Everything we do is driven on intelligence, and so for me to say that we’re going to reduce [the number of checkpoints] would be premature,” Pickle said. “Our goal is to ensure that we have security and our goal also is to do it in a cost-effective way, and to do it in a way that we don’t exhaust the officers.”

Telephone calls to House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood’s office were not returned Monday.

The Capitol Police instituted the checkpoints in early August — and simultaneously closed a portion of First Street Northeast — in response to a Homeland Security Department announcement citing potential terrorist threats to financial institutions in Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey.

District of Columbia officials including Mayor Anthony Williams (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) have criticized the department’s actions, however, noting the Capitol did not appear among the list of potential sites.

In subsequent weeks, Norton and other lawmakers also criticized the vehicle searches, describing the process as “cursory.”

Capitol Police Officer Michael Lauer, a department spokesman, said those concerns would be considered in the upcoming review.

“Complaints, the threat level and other factors are taken into consideration when we’re evaluating our security posture,” Lauer said.

But the agency does not plan to otherwise alter its security practices on Capitol Hill, including the 12-hour extended shifts many officers have worked since August.

“There are no plans to change [back to eight-hour shifts] after the election,” Ford said, adding that current schedules could stay in place until the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration.

The Capitol Police will maintain routine schedules for Election Day, Lauer said, although the Metropolitan Police Department stepped up its actions this week.

City law enforcement officials are deploying the MPD’s entire 3,800-officer force during a two-day period beginning Monday.

In addition to monitoring neighborhoods, MPD officers, who are serving 12-hour shifts, are also patrolling polling places across the city.

“This is strictly precautionary,” explained Sgt. Joe Gentile, an MPD spokesman. “There is no information to indicate any threat of any type.”