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Early Reviews Positive After Bomb Scare

It wasn’t immediately clear Friday afternoon whether a midday car-bomb scare that occurred just a stone’s throw from the Capitol would affect future security procedures in and around Capitol Hill.

“Situations like this always bring us back to the drawing board. We’re constantly reassessing our security measures,” said Sgt. Jessica Gissubel, a Capitol Police spokeswoman, Friday after the incident.

While Capitol Police determined that the suspicious package in the back of a car parked along the 100 block of First Street Northwest was not a threat, the incident tested the agency’s responsiveness as several blocks around the Hill were sealed off and hazardous material teams were brought in to destroy the package.

“There will be a review as there is with any incident, but based on all initial reports the chairman is pleased with how the police handled this situation,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), on Friday afternoon. Ney, as chairman of the House Administration Committee, conducts oversight of the Capitol Police.

While neither of the two white males questioned in connection with the package was charged Friday, the driver of the rented 2005 Chevy Impala with Florida tags was committed to a local mental hospital after being questioned by police.

“It was determined his stability was questionable and they wanted to get further assessment from a mental facility,” Gissubel said after the incident.

And while Friday’s incident was a car-bomb threat, there were no indications at press time that the Capitol Police would reinstitute its vehicle checkpoint program, which was put in place last fall after the federal terror alert level was raised for financial institutions in Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey. The program was kept in place for three months with officers manning 14 stations across Capitol Hill in 12-hour shifts, resulting in overtime costs of about $1.3 million to $1.5 million per two-week pay period. Capitol Police officials abandoned the program in November 2004 in favor of intermittent checkpoints.

Susan Irby, spokeswoman for Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.), said the option of reinstituting the checkpoints after Friday’s incidents had not been discussed with her office, which also oversees the Capitol Police. But, she added, “It’s their call. Security is their business and if it’s something that they propose in a non-emergency briefing we certainly would be open to whatever they are proposing.”

Friday’s incident began around 10:50 a.m. when the car’s driver approached a Capitol Police officer and made comments alluding to the presence of a suspicious package in his parked vehicle.

After the officer observed a package in the back of the car, matching a description provided by the driver, both the man and a passenger were taken into custody for questioning and an area from Constitution Avenue Northwest between Delaware Avenue and Third Street and First Street Northwest from Pennsylvania Avenue to Louisiana Avenue was sealed off to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. While no Congressional office buildings were evacuated, one private office building was ordered emptied.

A number of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, D.C. Metropolitan Police and U.S. Park Police were called to the scene as well as some 15 vehicles from D.C. Fire and Rescue.

The Capitol Police decided to destroy the package and at approximately 1:10 p.m. a loud explosion was heard as HAZMAT crews detonated the package inside the vehicle.

By 2 p.m. the contents of the package were determined not to be a threat and streets were reopened to traffic.

“Anytime incidents like this do occur it’s somewhat of a training experience,” Gissubel said, adding that Capitol Police officials would assess the department’s response to determine “how we’ll move forth in the future.”