Open Doors at Library Steam Cops

Posted April 15, 2008 at 6:40pm

Police at the Library of Congress are concerned that the recent opening of the Jefferson Building’s historic bronze doors creates a potentially hazardous situation for visitors and is unfair to officers.

The Library’s police union filed a grievance and sent a letter to Librarian James Billington this week objecting to the agency’s decision to open the doors to the public.

“With the fast closing merger of the two Police Departments, and the ever present unreadiness to expend funds for our U.S. Capitol Police Coworkers, we are presented with a serious staffing problem, at the expense of the Library Officers, forced to work longer hours and more overtime,” the letter states.

The bronze entrance doors lead directly into the Great Hall but have been closed since 1990. This Saturday, they were opened again to much fanfare.

But the police union claims that the move will mean stretching an already-stretched police force, along with risking the safety of those visitors climbing the slippery stone steps to the entrance.

“We have to ask constantly: Can we work for this day? Can we swap for this day?” union President Michael Hutchins said. “That’s the problem until they fully fund it.”

But Library of Congress spokesman Matt Raymond said the agency is fully staffed and ready to handle the one extra door. Plus, officials are looking for short-term solutions to improve traction on the steps; more permanent solutions are up to the Architect of the Capitol, Raymond said.

“We are opening a net total of one door, while we are getting eight additional officers to achieve full staffing,” Raymond said in an e-mail. “The issue of opening the bronze doors has long been known and completely vetted and agreed to by the U.S. Capitol Police Inspector, the [Architect of the Capitol] and the Library’s Safety Services Office.”

But Hutchins pointed to last Saturday as an example of the sacrifices officers may be forced to make.

On that day, Library officials opened the doors and unveiled the new “Library of Congress Experience,” a multimedia visitors center in the Jefferson Building.

Though the event was planned for months, officials didn’t tell officers that they would have to work on Saturday until the day before, Hutchins said.

Every Library officer was required to man the building — regardless of whether they had other plans, he said. That, Hutchins contends, is against the union’s contract.

“It goes back to the fact that they knew of the event so far in advance,” he said. But “they didn’t plan for it.”

But Raymond said extra officers were asked to man the event because of severe weather reports late in the week and the “possible need to shelter our visitors in place and provide for their safety.”

“Such eventualities could not possibly have been known far in advance,” he said.

Raymond also quoted the union’s agreement, which states that the Library needs to solicit volunteers 72 hours before an event but can use the “mandatory order list” if there aren’t enough volunteers.