Merger negotiations between Capitol Police and Library of Congress officials are back on track, just four weeks after a range of disagreements threatened to derail the unification of the law enforcement agencies.
Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer acknowledged Wednesday that Congressional officials met in late April to discuss the merger. Gainer added that he planned to meet separately with Librarian of Congress James Billington.
“We’re precariously close to reaching an agreement,” Gainer said.
The law enforcement agencies are working to finalize a memorandum that will govern the merger’s initial stage, during which as many as 23 Capitol Police officers will be detailed to the Library.
“There are very good, healthy discussions going on about [a Memorandum of Understanding] that will help us bridge the gap until Congress makes some good decisions on the plan,” Gainer said.
The Capitol Police Department is still awaiting approval of the merger-implementation plan it submitted to Congress in August 2003.
Under that proposal, the Library’s police would become the fourth division of the Capitol Police Uniformed Services Bureau, which now includes House, Senate and Capitol divisions.
Drawing up an initial stage of the merger, however, is mandated by the fiscal 2004 legislative branch spending bill. That legislation restricts the Library from filling vacancies on its force — comprised of about 130 officers, compared to more than 1,600 for the Capitol Police — requiring instead that the Capitol Police hire and detail officers to those empty posts.
Initially, Library officials proposed a memorandum that would have governed that process, ranging from specifications for uniforms to the establishment of a chain of command. But in late March, Gainer rejected the proposal, calling it a “a far cry from what needs to be implemented.”
A new document authored by Capitol Police officials is nearing approval, and officers from both agencies said the Library should receive Capitol Police officers in mid-May.
“We promised the Library [we will] get our officers there as quick as possible,” Gainer said.
LOC officials also expect to have an agreement within a few weeks, according to a Library spokeswoman.
“The Librarian and Deputy Librarian were pleased with the progress” on the agreement, she said.
Capitol Police expect to assign officers to the Library on a volunteer basis, Gainer said.
The chairmen of both law enforcement agencies’ labor committees praised a decision by Capitol Police to assign a new inspector to head the Library police force.
“Having an inspector from our department to oversee our interests there is a big step,” said Officer Ron Potter, who chairs the Capitol Police Labor Committee. “The inspector will report to the Librarian, but the overall policing will be done basically by our units.”
Officer Mark Timberlake, who chairs the Library’s police labor committee, praised the changes made to the memorandum.
“We’re a lot happier with the way things are moving,” Timberlake said.
Proposals to combine the two forces date back to the early 1990s, when reformers perceived twin goals of budgetary savings and improved policing.
The forces have adjoining areas of jurisdiction and have similar pay scales and missions — protecting Members of Congress, Congressional employees, national treasures and tourists.