LOC Police May Block Merger

Posted September 26, 2007 at 6:34pm

With legislation pending in the Senate and expected soon in the House, the merger between the Capitol Police and Library of Congress Police is expected to move forward this session after four years of delays.

But leaders of the LOC police union continue to worry that older officers will suffer under conditions presented in the current merger language, and they may soon officially move to reject the proposal.

Officer Mike Hutchins, who chairs the union, said there is concern that older officers will be forced to take civilian jobs with the Capitol Police despite having years of police experience.

“We’re still having heartburn,” Hutchins said. “We want everybody to move over, and they still aren’t allowing it. … We have experienced officers, seasoned officers. There’s no babies over here.”

There have been a slew of proposals introduced since the merger was mandated in the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill. The latest plan emerged in June following negotiations between Library administrators and the Capitol Police.

Under the plan, included as part of the Senate legislative branch appropriations bill, transfer of LOC officers to the Capitol Police would start in October 2008 and involve training, outfitting and swearing in new personnel.

Age, tenure and physical requirements could prevent nearly two dozen of the Library’s 99 officers from becoming full Capitol Police officers. Those officers would instead serve in civilian roles within the department.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its bill in late June. A few days later, the House Administration panel held a hearing on the merger, which Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) described as “very productive.”

Brady will introduce merger legislation as soon as he finishes reviewing the final recommendations presented by police, Library and union officials, he said.

“I anticipate that the Library and the Police Board will recommend an effective plan that achieves the seamless security that visitors, staff and Members need and an equitable merger that assures no officer loses a job in the process,” Brady said. “I am eager to work with my committee and others to pass this as soon as possible.”

Should the House pass its own merger language, the two chambers would get together and work the details out, according to Stephanie Allen, a spokeswoman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch in the Senate.

Library officials worked closely with the Capitol Police to submit their merger recommendations to Congress and are hopeful it will come to a successful conclusion soon, LOC spokesman Matt Raymond said.

A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police could not be reached by deadline.

Hutchins testified at the June hearing, alongside Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse and LOC administration officials. The union also has met with staff from Brady’s office and with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who heads the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, Hutchins said.

Aside from the concerns about being moved to civilian jobs, officers also worry that they will lose retirement benefits if they move, Hutchins said.

“On the surface, it looks like an easy thing to do,” Hutchins said of the merger. “But when you start talking about different retirement … that’s when the problems come through, the stumbling blocks.”

Union officials are seeking to include a grandfather clause in the merger language to let LOC police who want to keep their current retirement plans do so, Hutchins said.

Library police are in favor of the merger overall, Hutchins noted. If the union ultimately decides to move to reject the current merger plan, members could draft their own proposed merger legislation, Hutchins added.

“We’re disheartened that, for the younger people that could fit into their parameters and boundaries, this merger hasn’t taken place,” he said.

Landrieu believes it is important the merger gets done as soon as possible, so security can be streamlined throughout the Capitol complex, Allen said.

She noted that when the merger legislation was drafted for the appropriations bill, concerns of the LOC police union were addressed. For example, Landrieu worked hard to ensure every officer would retain a job — something not guaranteed in past merger proposals.

“Obviously, with any change, there is concern,” Allen said. “But it was intended to be done the best way possible.”

Many of the issues brought forth by the LOC officers are beyond the scope of the legislation, one LOC official noted. Seniority issues, for example, would need to be resolved between the two police unions, the official said.

Brady said he is aware of the concerns put forth by the LOC officers.

“My father was a cop and I am especially sensitive to their concerns,” Brady said. “The Library police union testified in support of this legislation and we continue to look for ways to ensure that every officer is treated equitably. Ultimately, our bottom line has got to be ensuring that we have an effective police force.”