CVC May Be Great for Visitors, but Not for Capitol Police

Posted December 2, 2008 at 3:24pm

The Capitol Visitor Center is not only a stately entrance for visitors — it is also designed to be a state-of-the-art facility that enhances the security of the Capitol.

But the Capitol Police officers providing that security are cramped in their new CVC quarters, with crowded break rooms and lockers that some say are too small to hold all of their equipment.

Union officials said the crowds during day shifts are the worst — with male officers almost unable to change in a jam-packed locker room.

“The locker room is all but inaccessible at 7 a.m.,” said Mike Detorie, who represents about 60 officers as the CVC shop steward for the Capitol Police Labor Committee. “It’s functionally useless.”

Police Chief Phillip Morse said he is working with the department’s union to “make the best of the situation.”

“It’s just new space, and we’re just trying to acclimate ourselves to it and make the necessary changes,” he said.

Every officer assigned to the Capitol and the CVC uses the space. Police officials wouldn’t give an exact number, but several officers estimated the number at a few hundred of the department’s 1,600 officers.

Those officers report to a secure area on the third level of the CVC for roll call. They are assigned a locker for their equipment and return to the space during breaks.

Several officers said the lockers are too small for all their equipment, which include uniforms, bulletproof vests and boots. Most officers change into uniform after they get to work.

Technically, officers are supposed to keep the equipment that they don’t need on a daily basis in large lockers in the Fairchild Building on South Capitol Street. But that space is inconvenient because it is about a half mile from the Capitol.

One officer, who asked not to be named, said the CVC lockers are about the size of those in high schools — enough space for a uniform shirt and gun holster, maybe, but not for an entire uniform without getting it wrinkled.

And then there’s the break room, a single room for all the officers who protect the Capitol and the CVC.

Before the CVC opened, those officers took their breaks in either a small passageway in the Capitol or a trailer on the CVC construction site.

Now, they sometimes have trouble finding a place to sit. One room is partitioned into two spaces: one for the break room and a smaller space for roll call. But several officers said the roll call space is too small to be usable, so roll call instead takes place in the hallway.

Union chairman Matt Tighe said many of these space issues stem from the fact that the CVC was designed in 2001, when the police force was smaller.

Tighe said Morse seems genuinely concerned and is talking to the union about what changes need to be made. For example, officials may be able to rearrange the break room to gain more space.

“I think it’s just the space,” Tighe said. “We’ve outgrown it.”