While the Capitol Police Department does not expect to change security operations in response to last week’s Madrid bombings, the incident could still play a role at annual appropriations hearings on the law-enforcement agency’s budget.
A police official said Monday there are no plans to intensify security measures in the wake of the bombings, noting the agency will maintain the “heightened security state” — which includes screening vehicles and visitors on the Capitol grounds — under which it normally operates.
“Everything is still the same security-wise,” said Officer Michael Lauer, a Capitol Police spokesman. Chief Terrance Gainer was unavailable for comment.
It is not clear whether the Madrid incident would be specifically cited by Capitol Police administrators at an upcoming Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the department’s fiscal 2005 spending request, but one House Member suggested the event could influence lawmakers from going “backward” on the agency’s budget.
“It shows that we have to be diligent on Capitol Hill. We have to support monies for our security forces, because al Qaeda is not dead,” said House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), whose panel oversees the law-enforcement agency. (In an interview Monday on NBC’s “Today,” former Arkansas GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson, now undersecretary of Homeland Security, said the Madrid bombings are likely tied to al Qaeda.)
More than 200 people died and 1,500 were injured in the Thursday incident, in which bombs detonated on four commuter trains.
“It’s a wake-up call. This is not the time to go backward on our security investment here in the Capitol,” Ney added.
The Capitol Police Department is scheduled to go before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch April 1 to review its $291.6 million request, a 32.7 percent increase over its current budget.
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who chairs the panel, has suggested that all legislative branch agencies consider cuts to their budgets in anticipation that spending could be held to fiscal 2004 levels.
In the House, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, canceled budget hearings in late February pending significant reductions in spending proposals from Congressional agencies. A number of agency heads have agreed that a spending freeze would force them to reduce staff.
No new House hearings were scheduled at press time, a Kingston spokeswoman said.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle, who chairs the Capitol Police Board, directed all security questions to the department. Lauer, the police spokesman, could not confirm whether the issue would be raised in the appropriations process, but stated: “Every time there is an event we obviously re-evaluate our security measures.”
A spokeswoman for Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), ranking member of the House Administration Committee, said the lawmaker “believes that the Capitol Police do a good job keeping us safe.”
“However, given the high-profile nature of this location and the thousands of visitors who come here every year, Capitol security protocols should be constantly reviewed and improved upon,” added Beth Bellizzi, Larson’s spokeswoman. “The horrific attack that happened last week in Spain certainly reminds us that the war against terror is far from over.”
In the meantime, two local law-enforcement agencies, the Amtrak Police and Metro Transit Police, have stepped up procedures to secure public transportation.
Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel described recent efforts simply as “more of the same” security measures already in place.
“We haven’t changed the procedures that we’re employing, but we have stepped up patrols and the use of canine units,” Stessel said. Additionally, Amtrak officials are seeking to reinforce existing policies, such as reminding employees to wear credentials and “challenge” anyone in restricted areas not displaying identification.
Similarly, the Metro police have increased rush-hour patrols and bomb-detecting dogs are being used more often, a spokeswoman said.