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Capuano Brings Mayoral Experience to New Post

Everyone has a boss, even police chiefs. Mayors oversee police operations, deciding what policies to enact and how long the top cop can stay on duty.

On Capitol Hill, there are essentially 540 mayors, with 535 Members and five Delegates who are able to call up the Capitol Police and demand answers to all sorts of questions.

Of course, a handful of Members play a bigger role in that oversight process, such as those in leadership and the chairmen of the House Administration and Senate Rules and Administration panels.

And now there’s a another lead player in town: Rep. Mike Capuano (D), the new chairman of the House Administration Subcommittee on Capitol Security.

House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) officially handed the reins of the subcommittee to Capuano earlier this month, noting that the Massachusetts Representative’s experience in police oversight makes him ideal for the spot — Capuano spent eight years as mayor of Somerville.

In an interview last week, Capuano said he sees his role as someone who will serve as an advocate for keeping Capitol Hill safe. Capuano plans to hold regular, private meetings with the Capitol Police and other security officials, and then use his position to ensure they have the resources to do their jobs effectively.

“My job is to understand what they are doing,” he said. “I’m not someone who thinks there is some sort of separation, that I’m above it all.”

Since the subcommittee was established early last year, it has yet to hold a public meeting of any sort. However, the full committee has held a handful of security-focused hearings, including several on the ongoing merger between the Capitol Police and Library of Congress forces and another on operations of the upcoming Capitol Visitor Center.

Before the 110th Congress ends, Capuano said he expects to host perhaps one public hearing, keeping the subcommittee’s focus on closed-doors meetings with security officials.

“I think a lot of the things have to be discussed in private,” he said.

House Administration is one of the committees in the chamber in which there appears to be a genuine sense of bipartisanship; Brady enjoys a good working relationship with ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), and the two frequently co-sponsor legislation together.

Republicans expect to enjoy a similar working relationship with Capuano on the security subcommittee, according to a spokeswoman. Its ranking member is Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.).

“Certainly, the safety of the security of those who visit and work at the Capitol is of utmost importance to us,” said Sunita Ray, the spokeswoman for the House Administration Republicans. “We’re excited that progress is being made, and certainly we look forward to working with him.”

Capuano said he already has a good working relationship with some security officials. He just returned from a trip to Afghanistan, where he was joined by House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, he noted.

Capuano said he has not met with Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse since assuming the chairmanship on April 2. But when he eventually does meet with Morse, he expects it will be a learning experience, getting to know how things operate and what issues are paramount.

One of the things Capuano said he expects to ask Morse is the status of the department’s operating procedures; the Congressman wants to ensure that the Capitol Police maintain clear, written guidelines, he said.

Capuano also wants to ensure that evacuation plans are well in order. He recalled one evacuation where Members rushed off the House floor, only to be stopped outside to allow a motorcade to pass.

“I’ve been informed that that has been addressed,” he said.

Maintaining a balance between keeping things open and providing security on the campus is important, Capuano said.

Capuano already has fought for some openness. He has been one of the top advocates for maintaining staff tours of the Capitol once the CVC opens in November, despite recommendations by Morse and others that the tours be scrapped in favor of those led only by the Capitol Guide Service.

The tours aren’t likely to be dissolved, although the exact form they will take after the CVC opens remains up in the air. But there are a number of other CVC issues that must be tackled, including deciding where tourists will be dropped off, since private tour buses are banned from the streets immediately surrounding the facility.

Then there’s the issues of the underground tunnels leading from the Cannon House Office Building and Russell Senate Office Building. Morse and others have recommended that all visitors enter the Capitol through the CVC, leaving the tunnels for the exclusive use of Members and staff.

But many Members argue that the tunnels remain open, since many constituents travel to the Capitol directly from Member offices. Capuano noted that the two issues aren’t new — officials have debated them for months now — adding that it is something that will get worked out over time.

Capuano also defended the police department’s right to run background checks on its officers and civilian workers.

House Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) recently questioned a department-wide criminal background check conducted earlier this year that looked to see whether officers and civilian workers were properly reporting to their supervisors whether they had been arrested for any crime other than a minor traffic violation.

At an Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch hearing, Lewis argued that officers and civilian employees weren’t properly notified of the checks, potentially raising a number of privacy and Fourth Amendment issues.

Police officials should give officers a heads-up that background checks will be run, Capuano said. But the department certainly has the right to run them, he added, since a force as large as the Capitol Police could have a few bad apples.

“I’m not looking to get anybody, but … human nature is human nature,” he said.

“I’ve been a mayor,” he added. “I’ve hired police officers. I’ve fired police officers.”

Not that Capuano is expecting to fire anybody soon. He maintained his main duty as chairman is to see that things run smoothly on Capitol Hill and give the department the resources to get the job done.

Brady certainly has confidence that will happen. “Ensuring the safety and security of visitors, Members and staff is an important responsibility and I can think of no one better suited for this vital position,” Brady said.

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