By Jordy Yager - 03/17/10 10:00 AM EDT
U.S. Capitol Police officers say they need more backing from their leaders to stop congressional staffers who insist on bypassing metal detectors when entering the Capitol with lawmakers.
Several officers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Hill that without a written directive of the policy, they’re left to face bullying staffers and intimidating lawmakers who have been known to file complaints against the officers. The staffers have accused them of discourteous treatment after being stopped and directed to the magnetometers.
“I don’t mind doing the job — just give me the tools to do it,” said one officer, who asked that his name not be used.
Last week The Hill reported that Capitol Police have violated security protocol by not stopping and screening every staffer through metal detectors when he or she has entered the Capitol, according to Livingood’s testimony before a House panel.
“If officers had an official memo that they could refer to, they wouldn’t get half of the complaints and get written up nearly as much,” said another officer.
Livingood last week acknowledged there have been “inconsistencies” and that he and Morse have been addressing the issue with officers at roll calls to make sure they know and enforce the department’s policy.
The problems enforcing security protocol surfaced less than two weeks after a gunman dressed like a Pentagon employee opened fire on two officers at an entrance to the building, wounding three officers in the process. And three years ago, a staff member for Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) was arrested trying to carry a loaded pistol and two loaded ammunition clips into the Russell Senate Office Building in a briefcase.
Livingood’s office said on Tuesday that the Capitol Police’s standard operating procedure “clearly states” that all staffers must be screened before entering the Capitol and that he receives “a small number of complaints regarding the inconsistent screening procedures.”
Several Capitol Police officers said that when staff or members do file complaints, they receive great support from Livingood and Morse. But they fail to get the backing of their immediate superiors — mainly the captains and lieutenants in the department — some of whom choose not to enforce the department’s mandatory screening policy.
“The chief and the sergeant at arms will come to their aid if a formal complaint is filed, but by that time there’s already a required investigation into the incident under way,” said an officer.
Chairman of the Capitol Police union Jim Konczos agreed, saying that Morse is very good at backing the officers if an investigation is opened regarding an officer’s courtesy. But, he added, it’s an undue burden for the officer to bear when he or she is just fulfilling the job description.
“If somebody gets offended at one of these doors, I’m sure they do run right into Mr. Livingood’s office,” he said. “And the next thing you know, the officer’s under investigation for courtesy, which happens quite a bit. And the investigation will come back unfounded a lot of the time, but I don’t think it’s fair that an officer has to carry around that stress of being under investigation.”
A Capitol Police spokeswoman said the department is considering giving officers who oversee screening stations a written memorandum of the existing security policy.
“The U.S. Capitol Police works in concert with the respective sergeant at arms and the U.S. Capitol Police Board to ensure policies are clear,” said Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police.
“Occasionally we may need to reiterate our current and existing policies where there are challenges or where a variety of competing interests exist.”
One officer pointed back nearly seven years, when a New York City councilman was shot dead by a political rival inside City Hall in front of dozens of witnesses.
The House does not require criminal background checks to be conducted on the 8,000 staff members who work with lawmakers.
A Capitol Police officer said the department increased its pressure on officers to screen all staff coming into the Capitol in the wake of the White House’s “gatecrasher” security lapse last November, which resulted in three uninvited people bypassing Secret Service to attend President Barack Obama’s first state dinner.
The House Administration Committee, which oversees House offices, said that it instructs new members during their freshman orientation that all staff are required to be screened going into the Capitol.
“Staff are expected to adhere to existing security procedures and are required to follow the direction of Capitol security personnel,” said Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for the committee.
“Members are briefed on standard security procedures during New Member Orientation.”
Officers who work at several of the screening points throughout the Capitol said they try and grant staffers preference when selecting the next person to screen, so that they can move through as quickly as possible.