Police Adjust to Merger

Posted January 22, 2010 at 6:03pm

Four months ago — about eight years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — Congress took the final step in creating a unified police force to provide seamless security on Capitol Hill.

The merger of the Capitol Police and the Library of Congress police took years of heated negotiations and legislative willpower, spurring at least two lawsuits. But with the paperwork signed and the dust settled, the Capitol Police force seems to have adjusted well to its newly expanded role.

“It’s just a matter of getting accustomed to it,— said Jim Konczos, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee, which now represents the former Library officers. “People aren’t big for change, but from what I’ve seen, the mesh is going well.—

House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.), who helped negotiate the final terms of the merger, also praised the agency for a process that he said went “smoothly.— But, he added, it has been a long seven years since Congress first authorized the move in an appropriations bill.

“It should have been finished years ago. It was a great idea, but somewhere the process languished,— he said in an e-mail. “Now that it’s done, we are clearly more secure with the two police forces working under a unified command structure with common training and equipment.—

But Konczos said a few ongoing issues remain since the merger — mainly, the stretched resources of the department. Of 93 former Library officers, only 58 transferred as officers onto the Capitol Police force. Twenty joined as civilian employees, forced into a desk job either because they couldn’t pass training or would not have worked enough years to retire by the mandatory officer retirement age of 57. The rest retired before the merger.

Capitol Police officials have thus had to move officers assigned elsewhere in the Capitol complex to the Library buildings, according to Konczos. Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider declined to give exact figures on the number of officers posted to the Library. The department, she said in an e-mail, was making “incremental adjustments and improvements to police staffing.—

But she added: “This will not require adding more officers to the Division, but making adjustments on certain posts within the Division.—

Still, the Capitol Police union worries that each post may not have enough officers. A new class of recruits will hopefully help fill the vacancies, Konczos said. That, in turn, will mean Library officers can train for specialty assignments — another area that the Labor Committee considers understaffed.

“What we’re hoping is that once they have more officers over there, that will open up more training opportunities for the officers already there,— he said.

But several former Library officers remain displeased about the merger, particularly those relegated to a desk job. One former officer, Joy Myers, filed a lawsuit against the Capitol Police Board and the Library of Congress claiming age discrimination. Myers’ complaint — and that of several former LOC officers — is that she joined the LOC police force with the promise of retiring as a law enforcement officer. The LOC department had no mandatory retirement age; the Capitol Police, however, require officers to retire at 57.

Myers, who is 58, was never given the chance to train as a Capitol Police officer. She will eventually retire from the department as a civilian, which means she doesn’t get the perk of keeping her gun. And without a gun, she won’t be as employable in the private sector.

In her lawsuit, Myers argues that as an LOC officer, she carried the same responsibilities as a Capitol Police officer.

“The new law assumes that the police skills and professionalism of the LOC, who already share in the same daily assignments and exact duties, will somehow magically disappear, if issued the uniform of a USCP officer,— the lawsuit states. Her lawsuit is ongoing: A U.S. District Court judge denied this month a motion for dismissal from the Capitol Police and the Library.

The Library’s police union also filed a lawsuit, claiming age and race discrimination. The group pointed to the difference in makeup between the Library and the Capitol Police forces: 87 percent of the rank and file on the Library force were black, compared with 29 percent on the Capitol Police force. Furthermore, the Library’s officers were on average much older, partly because many transferred onto the force after careers in other local and federal law enforcement agencies. That lawsuit is also ongoing, awaiting an amended complaint from the union.

But shortly before Library officers were sworn in on Sept. 30, the union’s then-chairman, Mike Hutchins, seemed more optimistic about the merger than he had in the past. Hutchins did not return several phone calls last week.

“We’re pleased and we’re going to make it work for us,— he said in September. But “the manner in which it was done left a lot to be desired.—

Brady, however, hopes that the challenges of the merger might pave the way for yet another consolidation: The Government Printing Office’s small police force, he said, could one day also be folded into the Capitol Police umbrella.

“Now that the merger is finally completed, we have a road map for a possible merger of the GPO Police into the Capitol Police,— he said. “I look forward to exploring that road thoroughly.—