Cops Institute Random Security Sweeps on Hill

Posted January 26, 2007 at 6:16pm

Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse has instituted a new security initiative designed to keep would-be terrorists off-balance by featuring concentrated security sweeps at random times and in random locations around the Capitol complex.

The first such sweep took place Thursday morning in Lower Senate Park and featured a number of officers from the department’s Patrol Mobile Response Division, including several K-9 units.

Members and staffers can expect similar random inspections to ramp up starting next week with sweeps by bomb squad personnel and traffic stops by the department’s Transportation Interdiction Group Emergency Response Team.

In an e-mail to senior Senate staffers Friday, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said Members and staff should not be surprised if a large number of officers suddenly appear at a random location.

“This program is essentially a consolidation of several existing programs to enhance our security posture here on Capitol Hill,” wrote Gainer, who also serves as the chairman of the board that oversees the Capitol Police. “This program will help identify suspicious persons, items, or vehicles, as well as inspect areas for safety hazards such as broken sidewalks, etc. During these events, there will be interactions with vehicle drivers and pedestrians in the areas being inspected.”

Gainer wrote in his e-mail that in the event of an emergency, Congressional staff and personnel would be notified through the various emergency communication systems already in place.

When reached Friday, Gainer declined to discuss specifics of the new security initiative, explaining that doing so would compromise the point of the random sweeps.

He did say that the new program evolved from Morse’s notion that keeping the enemy off-guard involves making use of new tactics.

Gainer said he sent the e-mail last week because “I knew [Senate staff] would be seeing a lot more police activity, and I wanted to give them a sense of ‘Don’t panic, there’s a rationale for what the chief is doing and it’s all for the benefit to security and to throw off our adversaries.’”

He added that “99.9 percent” of the security sweeps would take place outside Congressional building, “but it could be in common spaces in buildings. … It’s really meant for the outside interdiction. We think we have superb security as it applies to getting into the Capitol or the office buildings, but when it comes to foot traffic and car traffic in the open campus we have there is always risk. What the chief is trying to do is minimize those risks.”

The Capitol Police occasionally has instituted vehicle checkpoints on Capitol Hill over the past few years, usually in response to the federal terror alert level being raised.

Perhaps the most notable vehicle inspection program in recent memory was instituted in the fall of 2004, when officers manned 14 stations across Capitol Hill in 12-hour shifts, resulting in overtime costs of about $1.3 million to $1.5 million per two-week pay period. Police officials abandoned the program in November 2004 in favor of the intermittent checkpoints.