Modernizing the Force

Posted June 4, 2008 at 6:27pm

Back in 1868, Capitol Police officers had to buy their own uniforms, and in 1944, the House and the Senate each got to hire half the force.

[IMGCAP(1)]Such laws have long been defunct, and yet they remain on the books. On Wednesday, a bill to get rid of all those outdated police codes passed the House.

The bill also solidifies the expanded authority given to the chief of police back in 2003, when the department was given more unilateral control over its own finances. For example, it clarifies that the chief has authority over certain aspects of the Capitol Police budget and the hiring and firing of employees.

Such details were not carefully spelled out in the 2003 reorganization, House Administration Committee spokesman Kyle Anderson said. House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) introduced the bill.

For years, the Government Accountability Office and Members have criticized the Capitol Police for how it handles overtime, budgets, risk management and other financial and human resources duties. But in the past year, GAO officials and Chief Phillip Morse have testified at hearings that the department is making significant improvements.

Officials found inconsistencies between the chief’s legal authority and Congress’ intent as the department worked to establish hiring practices and workforce management plans. The bill is meant to clear up any confusion.

Merger Misery. The Library of Congress police union filed a third complaint Wednesday about the upcoming merger with the Capitol Police, claiming that the Capitol Police discriminated against the largely black LOC force.

The complaint, filed with the Office of Compliance, is almost identical to the one the union filed last week against the Library. It focuses on race and age discrimination, citing the fact that many LOC officers will be transferred into civilian positions when the merger is complete.

President Bush signed legislation five months ago that put the merger into action, with an expected completion date of September 30, 2009. The LOC police union has argued against several of the terms of that merger.

Much of the dispute comes from the differences in retirement rules between the forces. LOC officers have no mandatory retirement age, but Capitol Police officers must leave at age 57. About 75 percent of the LOC police force are older than 40.

Mike Hutchins, who chairs the Fraternal Order of Police LOC Labor Committee, hopes to persuade lawmakers to repeal or at least to alter the merger legislation to allow the 93 LOC officers to work on the force until they decide to retire.

The chances of that seem slim, especially because lawmakers have worked for years to pass legislation to merge the forces and thus centralize the Capitol complex’s security. The resulting bill and its passage was a significant step forward.

Submit your Campus Notebook tips here.