The public face of the Capitol Police Department will no longer sit atop a uniformed body, as the law enforcement agency looks to hire the first-ever civilian to head its public information office.
Law enforcement personnel familiar with the decision said Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer has been considering the option for some time. The departure of Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford, who left the office for a position elsewhere in the department earlier this year, prompted Capitol Police to move ahead with a search for a civilian employee.
“It’s a very high-profile job in which you do want someone to be consistent,” said Kristan Trugman, Gainer’s chief of staff.
Although Dan Nichols, now an inspector, spent 16 years as the department’s public face before moving to take over the K-9 unit in 2002, the Capitol Police has run through a handful of spokesmen in recent years, as officers leave the post to take jobs in other areas of the department.
In addition, law enforcement officials assert that adding a civilian to the post will allow the department to hire someone with significant experience in public relations, rather than drawing on officers from the department.
“We put these law enforcement officers in a difficult position because we were forcing them to go out and deal with the press, without a real background in dealing with the press,” said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle, who noted recent representatives have been “very capable.”
According to a “vacancy announcement” published by the Capitol Police, the department is seeking a candidate with “professional experience in public affairs/public relations in order to develop and carry out effective information programs which publicizes and promotes agency programs to targeted audiences.”
The salary is listed at $101,578 to $127,003.
Those familiar with the decision to create the new public-relations post said it was not connected to criticisms over the police chief’s frequent media appearances that had been leveled by House lawmakers in early 2004.
At the time, House appropriators on the legislative branch subcommittee had written new guidelines that sought to limit Gainer’s press interviews.
The provision was included in a draft of the report that accompanied the fiscal 2005 legislative branch spending bill but did not survive in the final version.
No timeline is available on when the department expects to announce a new hire, although the vacancy announcement states that applications must be received by Tuesday.
The Capitol Police will convene a review board to select applicants, although finalists would need to also be approved by the House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.
Although the top public affairs job will go to a civilian, uniformed officers are expected to continue working in the office.