The sudden retirement of Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer, who stepped down Friday after allegations of nepotism surfaced, is raising numerous questions that remain unanswered.
Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), questioned the validity of the nepotism charge against Gainer, explaining that law enforcement has a “proud tradition” of having several members of a family serve on the same force.
“Generations go into the same department,” he said. “All federal agencies have fathers, sons, daughters serving together.”
He speculated that Gainer’s assertive leadership on national-security issues could have offended members of Congress and staff who might have reacted by trying to push him out.
“Gainer was an extraordinarily articulate chief and shortly became the go-to guy on national-security issues,” Pasco said. “There was a certain amount of jealousy of that.”
During the past few years, Gainer repeatedly clashed with some congressional appropriators over budget proposals, which many House members considered extravagant. Last year, House members of the Appropriations Committee stripped the Capitol Police of its mounted horse unit.
“It’s like having to report to a 535-member City Council,” Pasco said. “The best way to make yourself a target in D.C. is to stand out.”
He added, “He’s, without question, done the best job with the force. … It’s a sad day for the Capitol Police and the people that work and visit the Capitol.”
Pasco also expressed concern that Gainer’s departure could have a negative impact on the safety of the Capitol complex.
Gainer’s retirement “could have a chilling effect on proactive, preventative law enforcement,” he said. “You need a guy who thinks strategically as well as tactically as Gainer does.”
Pasco credited Gainer with improving the equipment and the efficiency of the force since his hiring in June 2002 more effectively than any chief in the last 25 years.
Gainer will stay on as chief until April 6. His son-in-law, Darren Ohle, was hired in 2003. He resigned March 3. Ohle could not be reached for comment.
It is still unclear how and why Gainer was alerted to a 1967 law barring agency heads from hiring relatives. When asked how the information was initially communicated to him and why it had been brought up several years after his son-in-law had been hired, House and Senate aides said they were unsure.
A spokeswoman for Senate Sergeant at Arms Bill Pickle declined to give information about the search for a new chief, saying it is still premature since Gainer will continue to serve until April.
She would not comment on who initially alerted Gainer to the law. Gainer could not be reached for comment by press time.
Selection of a new chief historically has been the duty of the Capitol Police Board, consisting of the House and Senate sergeants at arms, the architect of the Capitol, which normally conducts a nationwide search for a replacement when a vacancy occurs.
Jon Brandt, a spokesman for the House Administration Committee, said that as soon as Gainer leaves in April Assistant Chief Christopher M. McGaffin will serve as the acting chief throughout the search for a replacement to ensure continuity of leadership.
“The Capitol Police Board will drive the process,” he said. “The House Administration Committee will exercise oversight and will work closely with the House Sergeant at Arms [during the selection period].”
Kerri Hanley, spokeswoman for the House sergeant at arms, confirmed that a national search would take place but added that the board will be looking for a replacement inside the department as well.
McGaffin was appointed assistant chief Oct. 20 and has served with the Capitol Police in several capacities since July 1972.
Pasco said the Capitol Police Board would have a challenge finding a replacement for Gainer who has a comparable understanding of national-security issues.
He said he hopes that the FOP will be consulted in some capacity during the selection process of the new chief, adding that if the union had been asked about Gainer’s retirement he is confident it would have urged him to stay.
“It seems they would rather have faceless, nameless staff members select the chief,” Pasco said.