Capitol Police Plan for Overtime, Crowds

Posted January 5, 2009 at 6:54pm

Horror stories abound when officials discuss the record crowds expected for President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, a disquieting scenario of suffocating tourists, overloaded Metro trains and clogged streets.

Yet for the Capitol Police, this year’s event is less nerve-racking than President George W. Bush’s second inauguration in 2005. Although that event only attracted some 300,000 people, it was the first inauguration after Sept. 11, 2001.

“Now you’re talking about crowd control,” Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said. “Four years ago, there was much more concern of a terrorist attack.”

Gainer, who was Capitol Police chief at the time, added: “We still didn’t know what to expect from our adversaries, [but] I think over time we’ve added officers, further developed technology and really linked with the intelligence community.”

Officers, of course, will still have to deal with a slew of new obstacles while securing the Capitol grounds — including record-breaking crowds, extended bar hours and nearly 100 inaugural balls.

It will mean 37,000 hours of overtime and millions of dollars in extra costs. All 1,600 Capitol Police officers will be on duty, guarding the few square blocks where the nation’s first African-American president will take the oath of office.

Police will essentially close off the Capitol grounds, erecting a fence around the border. Officers will work a 16-hour day, screening 240,000 guests and protecting Members, dignitaries and administration officials.

The department expects to spend almost $2 million just on overtime, according to its budget request for fiscal 2009. That includes not only the all-hands-on-deck for Jan. 20, but rehearsals in the days leading up to the inauguration.

And this comes less than two months after the Capitol Police took on the new responsibility of protecting the Capitol Visitor Center — a 580,000-square-foot underground building that is attached to the Capitol.

The CVC was under construction for six years, requiring only a few officers on its perimeter. But since it opened on Dec. 2, it has required dozens of officers inside and out.

On Jan. 20, it will be closed, making it easier to be secured by officers, Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse said. “It’s actually easy to do now because it’s not a construction project. It’s a modern building that’s open,” he said. “That’s much easier to secure than a construction site that doesn’t have doors.”

Morse also hopes a tweaked security plan will ensure a smooth operation.

Officers will screen guests at locations more convenient to Metro stops, helping the force to better handle the large crowds, Morse added. The department is also extending the perimeter around the Capitol, erecting a fence that encompasses not only the Capitol square but surrounding buildings.

That 360-degree fence “helps us not have to use as many police officers,” Morse said. “It allows us more officers to divert attention to crowd control and screening.”

In the past, the perimeter made a square around the Capitol and Congressional office buildings, roughly following First Street on the west side of the Capitol, D Street to the north, Second Street to the east and D Street to the south.

Morse declined to describe the location of this year’s perimeter because he said the plans are not complete. But Gainer said pushing it farther from the Capitol will ensure that any problems during screening are far removed from the inauguration site on the Capitol’s West Front.

Secret Service agents and other federal officers will also help secure the Capitol area, which will require a ticket to enter and strict screening.

In addition to the usual prohibited items (such as weapons), guests won’t be able to bring in items such as umbrellas, posters, strollers, coolers and backpacks.

Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley wouldn’t say how many agents or how much money was allocated for the job. But he said the agency will take the lead for the event, since it is classified as a National Special Security Event.

The agency is not only in charge of security for the formal ceremony, but also for security throughout the city — including the inaugural parade and the crowds on the National Mall.

They will do it with the help of almost 60 agencies and thousands of law enforcement officers.

Among them will be more than 10,000 active duty military personnel, all of the Metropolitan Police Department’s 4,000 officers and another 4,000 police officers from around the country.