The Butler of new standards

 John Butler is willing to wager that most people don’t realize the Government Printing Office (GPO) has a police force.

But Butler, who is chief of police for the GPO, points out that the department has been around for quite some time.

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“Matter of fact, the GPO police actually helped fight off the Confederacy,” he notes.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill sure know the department. In fact, members have severely lambasted the security force — which protects the country’s passport production — at Legislative Branch subcommittee hearings on and off for two years, with the most recent condemnation coming two months ago.  

Criticism has ranged from the agency’s use of contracted security guards — instead of sworn officers — to protect the passport division to periodic security lapses at the agency’s entrances. Lawmakers have also claimed that the GPO police force has not sufficiently secured the U.S. Capitol Police’s Hazmat trucks stored on the department’s 30-acre grounds.

Members’ concern over the printing agency, which sits several blocks north of Capitol Hill, was so strong that GPO officials were prompted to hire Butler, who survived the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and is familiar with the changing security requirements of the 21st century.

“The toughest thing was just bringing the department to post-9/11 operational standards,” Butler said of his transition to GPO two years ago.

Butler draws from a wide range of law enforcement experience, from working tactical operations with the U.S. Border Patrol to protecting former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s private security detail. (The job with Rumsfeld even included advising the former Cabinet secretary on the type of lawnmower he should buy to cut the grass at his Eastern Shore home.)

But it’s Butler’s roots that keep him going, he said.

Raised in Harrisburg, Pa., Butler tries to get home every other weekend to see his family, nieces, nephews and cousins included, making the group about 70 strong.

Butler credits his law enforcement career choice to a local police officer from his childhood, with whom he still stays in touch and who continues to serve as his mentor.

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“When I would be coming home from school, he would stop me and ask me if I was being a good kid, and I dug that,” Butler said. “Seeing him with his uniform, and helping people, it may all sound familiar, but that’s the real deal.”

Butler looks younger than his age (45), and that’s likely due to the 26 pounds he lost while attending the FBI’s prestigious 10-week National Academy Program. He fills out the shoulders of a white dress shirt, a sign of his love for fitness.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a junkie; I would say I’m conscious of my health,” Butler said. He said he “looked forward to the challenge” of climbing over walls, running through creeks and scaling rock faces with ropes for a two-mile obstacle course called the Yellow Brick Road (the course ended with a four-mile run back to the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., where the program is held).

Butler, along with 249 law enforcement professionals from around the world, accepted the FBI’s invitation to attend the program, which was more than just physically demanding. At times, Butler would be in the FBI library until 3 a.m. researching paper topics he was assigned. He said he accepted the invitation to bring back additional managerial and tactical skills to the GPO.

“I’m looking to instill some of the leadership skills to some of our first- and second-line supervisors, who I refer to as my command staff, so they can better lead,” said Butler, noting that makes his job “quite a bit easier.”

And in his two years on the job, he’s gotten a running start to implementing changes at the department, from bolstering the number of sworn officers and updating the force’s equipment to initiating a neighborhood anti-crime initiative.

Butler built the department from 27 to 44 officers and is in the process of hiring eight more. To augment this force, GPO has about 45 armed security officers stationed mostly at interior posts. The guards give the sworn officers greater flexibility to respond to calls, alarms and suspicious activities, Butler said, adding that now only sworn officers oversee the passport division, which issues more than 25 million of the documents each year.

This summer, he started a program to cut down on theft and other incidents at night and in the early morning hours, increasing patrols and the number of security cameras monitored.

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Butler has also started the GPO’s first bicycle patrol this year, and he’s looking at developing a K-9 unit to assist in screening vehicles coming into GPO facilities and investigate any suspicious packages left unattended in the surrounding area.

But Butler is not without his critics.

Alvin Hardwick, chairman of the GPO Police Labor Committee, said he supports hiring more officers, but accused Butler of having a preferential hiring process, citing recent hires of those who worked at the Pentagon, where Butler and LaMont Vernon, GPO’s director of security programs, were once employed.

“These guys came in and they now want to turn this into Pentagon North,” said Hardwick. “We categorize it as cronyism. All of these guys came from the Pentagon together. We find that it’s more of a bring-your-buddy-aboard, as opposed to hiring the best-qualified people who apply for jobs.”

Public Printer Robert Tapella, who heads the GPO, said there is no favoritism in the police department.

 “The fact that individuals who at some point in their career have crossed the paths of these two and have decided that they wish to follow them in some way to the GPO is a tribute to the great leadership capability of those two men,” said Tapella.

Butler said he understands, perhaps better than most, the security enhancements that Congress asked the GPO to make, because in January of 2001 he joined the Pentagon’s police division.

“It’s like it was yesterday to me,” he said of Sept. 11.

“What really sticks with me is that it was hot that morning, it was really humid, and we had just come from the gym, and we had the A/C on, but I remember the heat wave coming directly from where the plane hit,” he said. “That’s how hot it was — I could feel the heat. I may have been 100 yards away.”

 Butler was one of the first responders to the crash site, and said, “at that point it was chaotic. You don’t train for a plane. I still remember smelling the jet fuel burning.”

Butler is already thinking ahead for the GPO police force. He may request a bomb squad division, and he hopes to extend Operation Nightowl, currently a summer program, into the winter.

But his future plans also include personal time.

In 10 years, Butler said, he can see himself retired, living “somewhere where it doesn’t freeze,” perhaps Georgia or maybe traveling abroad to France or Belize, where he would go scuba diving.