Police Force Merger Runs Into Another Roadblock

Posted January 26, 2007 at 6:19pm

It appears a Senate provision that would have required the Capitol Police and Library of Congress Police forces to move ahead with a long-awaited merger will not be included in the fiscal 2007 continuing resolution that will be considered in the House this week.

Even though the merger has been in limbo for almost four years, scrapping the latest plan, at least until fiscal 2008, seems to be OK as far as the majority of LOC officers are concerned.

Last week, a petition was circulated by the LOC Police Labor Committee that stated officers had reservations with all or part of the plan that had been developed by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch in June 2006.

As of Friday, more than 90 percent of the department’s 99 officers had signed the petition, according to Officer Mike Hutchins, chairman of the labor committee.

Hutchins explained last week that the union’s main concern with the process outlined in the Senate plan lies in the fact that only 82 officers would have been eligible to transfer to the Capitol Police, and those officers also would have to successfully complete a background check, polygraph test, medical examination and prescribed training course before being allowed to wear the Capitol Police uniform. The other 17 officers who would not have been eligible for transfer — mostly because of age restrictions — would either have to retire, if qualified, or be transferred to a non-policing position at the Library.

“The union membership decided they did not want to pursue a resolution that had any officers left behind,” Officer Howard Moore, vice chairman of the labor union, said last week.

Also, Hutchins explained, “We feel that we should not have to go through a requalification determination. … We work side by side with these [Capitol Police] officers daily, so where is the logic that our skills or what have you diminish just simply because we take on new uniforms?”

If all current LOC officers do not have the opportunity to be transferred, the union would rather the LOC police remain a “force of attrition,” Hutchins said, continuing to operate under the memorandum of understanding that has been in place since the end of 2004 under which the Library has no hiring authority and daily operations are run by an inspector from the Capitol Police.

Since a full merger between the two forces was first mandated in the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill, more than 30 officers have retired or left the LOC Police, and replacements have been filled by Capitol Police officers.

But not all LOC officers think making the agency a force of attrition is an acceptable fall-back option to the merger quandary, which originally was supposed to be completed by 2006 according to the 2003 legislation.

“Attrition will not solve the problem of attaining seamless security on the Hill, which is the desired result of the merger between the two forces,” said Officer Mark Timberlake, who was replaced by Hutchins atop the labor committee late last year.

Proposals to combine the two forces date back to the early 1990s, when reformers perceived twin goals of budgetary savings and improved policing. Advocates argued that the two forces have adjoining areas of jurisdiction and have similar pay scales and mission — protecting Members of Congress, Congressional employees, national treasures and tourists. Last week Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer — who currently serves as chairman of the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the department — said that he still believes the merger is “a wonderful idea.”

“The fact that we have an inspector over there running it is a great short-term solution,” Gainer said. “In the long haul, merging agencies will be best for everyone.”

After the 2003 omnibus spending bill was passed, the then-General Accounting Office studied the possible consolidation of the two forces and estimated that it would cost as much as $25.9 million.

But as discussions of the merger dragged on, cost estimates rose and by October 2005 the renamed Government Accountability Office updated its estimate to just under $35.7 million. Meanwhile, a December 2005 LOC inspector general report noted that “the long deliberations and analysis concerning the possibility of transferring the Library police to the USCP, and rumors as to how the merger may occur have affected police morale. This uncertainty about the future of the Library Police is disillusioning a number of police management officials and officers, and fostering an atmosphere of anxiety and distrust.”

In March 2006, the Library’s police union began lobbying Members of Congress to help move the process forward for the sake of the officers on the force and security on the Hill.

Hutchins said the agency is again reaching out to Members on the merger, but this time they are stressing their desire to protect all of their officers in the process. Hutchins said he already has spoken with interested Members since the 110th Congress began earlier this month.

“This Congress has proved to be aggressive, these issues are coming up and we don’t want to miss the boat in having discussions on this and making sure everyone remains employed,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the new chairwoman of the legislative branch panel, said that while no new movement with the merger will happen during the fiscal 2007 cycle, the Senator will take up the issue as fiscal 2008 appropriations hearings begin in the coming months.

“Sen. Landrieu will be reviewing the merger in the fiscal 2008 appropriations process and through the legislative hearings,” said Stephanie Allen. “She will make a decision about whether it should continue to move forward, but she certainly is going to want to hear from the people who oppose it and the people who support it before anything is final.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), the former chairman and current ranking member of the House Administration Committee, said her boss also is interested in looking into the concerns brought forward by the LOC Police union.

“We feel as though the process has been really inadequate since its conception and that before the committee proceeds with legislation it should look at a fully endorsed plan by all the parties involved,” said Salley Collins. “Really it’s about the safety and security of the Library and its employees, including the Library Police and the United States Capitol Police. Their safety and the security of the Library itself is really the top priority here, regardless of uniforms.”

A spokesman for the Library of Congress said the agency is working with its Congressional overseers to keep the merger process moving forward and that “The Library is interested in working to ensure the equitable treatment of our police personnel in the merger.”