Police Checkpoints Coming Down

Posted November 10, 2004 at 3:26pm

The Capitol Police Department will dismantle the more than one dozen security checkpoints erected across Capitol Hill just three months ago, a police spokesman confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

“The checkpoints will no longer be used on a daily basis,” said Officer Michael Lauer, a department spokesman.

Instead, the law enforcement agency will randomly deploy temporary checkpoints around the Hill. It is not clear whether the traffic stops will be set up at the same intersections now patrolled by Capitol Police, however, and Lauer said plans have not been finalized.

He added: “The department was continuously monitoring and evaluating the use of the checkpoints and as a result decided to implement these changes.”

Discussions are under way to determine whether the full contingent of checkpoints will be put back into place for the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration.

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. Coincidentally, news outlets reported Wednesday that the government will lower the threat level for the financial services sector.

The department’s decision at that time angered many District officials, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Mayor Anthony Williams (D), who said the city was not consulted about the checkpoints.

In a telephone interview Wednesday evening Norton praised the removal of the traffic stops, but noted: “We’re not going to be satisfied until normal looks like normal and feels like normal.”

She also voiced support for the new checkpoint plans.

“I think random checkpoints are always in order, as long as they are few in number and don’t give the impression that you’re in the battle zone,” Norton said. “When you have no intelligence indicating risk, it seems the way to proceed is by random checks so that terrorist know you’re looking for them” but without putting the public on a constant alert.

In a statment late Wednesday night, Williams echoed Norton’s comments.

“On behalf of all residents of the District, I am extremely pleased that the US Capitol Police have decided to eliminate permanent checkpoints around Capitol Hill,” Williams said. “This is an important step on the part of the federal government to recognize the disruption that these checkpoints caused to average citizens trying to carry on the business of living and working in the Nation’s Capital. Walling off the Capitol, thus transforming this symbol of American freedom and democracy into a veritable ‘fortress of fear,’ was never the answer to preventing terrorism.”

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), whose panel oversees the law enforcement agency, also commended the Capitol Police Board’s decision.

“From day one, Speaker Hastert has said we must keep the Capitol complex safe and secure, but still open to the public and today’s announcement by the Capitol Police Board is in line with that approach,” Ney said in a written statement. “Our security officials will continue to adjust the security posture at the Capitol complex according to the current threat level, but all of us are also fully committed to keeping the lines of communication open with all involved parties, including those who represent the people of Washington D.C.”

Some Congressional lawmakers had also questioned the cost of maintaining the checkpoints, originally estimated to cost approximately $40 million, if they had been maintained through the presidential inauguration.

Lauer said Wednesday that cost was “one of the many factors” involved in the Capitol Police Board’s decision.

“Certainly we have to take into consideration the cost, as well as the strain on our officers and the opinions of the public,” Lauer said.

There is no set date for the removal of the existing checkpoints, Lauer said, but it will take place “in the near future.”

Despite the decision to dismantle the traffic stops, most of the department’s more than 1,600 officers will remain on 12-hours shifts until the checkpoints are removed, Lauer said.