Capitol Police Take Stand Against Seats

Posted November 23, 2011 at 3:51pm

A Wednesday labor-management meeting could decide whether the Capitol Police switch to low-back, slant-seated stools that have been harshly criticized by officers during a trial run.

“I don’t see the need for them. The chairs we have now are fine,” one officer told Roll Call. “We have plenty to do as is, and now we have to worry about sitting on a screwy stool.”

“I hate them,” another said, demonstrating how difficult it is to comfortably sit while loaded down with uniform and gear.

A dozen officers interviewed all reacted negatively to the possible change — and all asked that they be allowed to speak without attribution.

Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider did not say why the new seating arrangements were being explored, but she described the “tactical stool,” as one that “allows officers to rest their [bodies] while maintaining tactical readiness on post.”

Lyon Workspace Products, the leading manufacturer of the stool with a retail value of $250 to $300, boasts on its website that it has technical and ergonomic features that provide “relief for workers who can’t sit down on the job.”

Beat officers interviewed by Roll Call are largely unconvinced. A number of them said the new stools are uncomfortable and unnecessary.

There are currently a handful of stools scattered across the Capitol. But most officers whose stations have been outfitted with the new stools have pushed them off to the side, ignoring them altogether in favor of their old seats.

One officer said the gesture spoke for itself: “That’s pretty much how we feel about them,” he said.

None of the officers said they knew why the new stools were introduced. Tim Barker, the executive chief shop steward of the Capitol Police Labor Committee — the union that represents the police officers on Capitol Hill — said he was equally in the dark. He said he was told, however, that management wants uniformity in place of the many different styles of chairs used by police officers around the Capitol.

Barker said he hopes the Wednesday meeting will shed more light on that question, as well as whether the stool meets Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. He said he plans to wait until he has more information before he voices his concerns.

“Personally, I don’t like the stool at all,” he said, adding that officers have reported that the stools make them feel like they are going to tip over and that, in efforts to adjust the seats, some have already broken.

While he wouldn’t speculate about whether one of management’s goals in making the switch was to prevent officers from sitting on the job, that might be the result, Barker said.

One senior Capitol Police officer said it’s typical for the force to go along with new work provisions with little fanfare. But the stools, he said, could hurt morale and will not improve response time to security emergencies.

“Explain to me how this helps us do our job better,” the senior officer said. “It doesn’t.”