Specter Requested Capitol Police Assistance at Town Hall

Posted August 11, 2009 at 3:33pm

The Capitol Police sent several officers to Sen. Arlen Specter’s town-hall meeting Tuesday to ensure the Pennsylvania Democrat’s safety, but Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said that such a step is rare even as tempers are flaring at similar events across the country.

“It is unusual outside of leadership to have officers at these events,— Gainer said in an interview Tuesday, adding that Specter asked for the assistance. “We did do a threat analysis and thought the threat was very low but out of caution sent a couple of officers.—

Since Members returned to their districts earlier this month, several have faced crowds who are angry and vocal about their opposition to Democrats’ health care reform plans. At one recent meeting held by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) protesters were arrested for assault and resisting arrest.

On Tuesday morning, Specter answered questions in front of a crowd in Lebanon that booed and shouted at the former Republican. No one got physically violent, but the room was packed to capacity.

Such a lively crowd doesn’t necessarily mean a Member is in danger, Gainer said. Usually, he said, working with local law enforcement is “way more than enough to handle crowds that are not illegal but may be a bit more rambunctious.—

Gainer wouldn’t comment on whether the Capitol Police have sent officers to any other town halls. He also wouldn’t rule out sending officers to other town-hall meetings.

“I think we have to take a town hall at a time and see what the sense of the Member is and what intelligence is telling us,— he said.

The debate over health care reform has also increased the volume of calls and mail to Members’ offices. Gainer said his office is handling “substantially more— mail during the recess.

Capitol Police also are investigating a death threat made in a call to Rep. Brad Miller’s (D-N.C.) office, but Gainer said he isn’t aware of any similar situation in the Senate.

Capitol Police officials were similarly vague when asked to detail their plans to keep Members safe over the August recess.

In an e-mail, spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said the department does not comment to “maintain the integrity of any ongoing investigation.— But she also said that officials are keeping tabs on the situation.

“The U.S. Capitol Police work very closely with local law enforcement agencies around the country and coordinate local efforts with them,— she said. “We also communicate extensively, sharing intelligence with our partners to ensure the safety of Members of Congress.—