Capitol Cop Finishes Another Inauguration, Acting Chief Duties
Assistant Chief Tom Reynolds looks at career come full circle
Assistant Capitol Police Chief Tom Reynolds slept at official headquarters on the eve of Inauguration Day.
His office is spacious with a few personal touches, such as a collection of “challenge coins” from officers he’s met over the years and a handful of framed photographs. There’s one of him and his wife, whom he met on the job, and two that show the assistant chief beaming after the successful completion of marathons.
He has a desk, a large conference table and an assortment of chairs. He doesn’t, however, have a couch.
“Oh, I put something down on the floor,” Reynolds said vaguely of where he might have slept the night before the inauguration. Then he laughed. “Yeah, it is what it is.”
Reynolds was up at 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 21, in preparation for President Barack Obama’s public swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol. By 4:30 a.m. he was at work in the Capitol Police Command Center, a large, dark and somewhat intimidating low-ceilinged room scattered with desks and phones and its walls lined with video screens showing live shots around the Capitol grounds and the airspace above the complex.
He didn’t leave the room until 8 p.m., he said, except when he needed to use the restroom. Other than that, he was manning his station, along with senior members of the Capitol Police force and leaders within the Secret Service, the Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies around the District.
It was Reynolds’ eighth inauguration, his seventh with the Capitol Police. (The first inaugural celebration he staffed as a military policeman with the Army.)
Since that time, he’s directed traffic on a day so cold that President Ronald Reagan’s 1985 inauguration was moved indoors, served on Vice President Dan Quayle’s dignitary protection unit in 1989, taken on increased responsibilities during the first inauguration to follow the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and then oversaw the entire operation less than two weeks ago.
He probably won’t be working the next inauguration: The mandatory retirement age is 57, a milestone he’s set to reach before the 2017 inaugural celebration.
And as if preparing for what will likely be his last inauguration wasn’t enough, he also served as acting chief of the department during the last half of 2012, filling the gap between Phillip Morse’s departure for American University and Kim Dine’s arrival from the police department in Frederick, Md.
If Reynolds has any anxiety or regrets about his long tenure, it didn’t show in his recent interview with CQ Roll Call. Instead, the lean, gray-haired assistant chief was laid-back and quick with a smile and a hearty laugh. In fact, for someone with an enormous amount of responsibility, he seemed surprisingly at ease.
Reynolds didn’t even describe his experience running the force of about 1,775 sworn officers and 370 civilian employees as a particularly stressful one.
For one thing, he said he felt prepared, having served in almost every facet of the force over the past decade and a half.
“Obviously as assistant chief, when the chief’s on leave I’m in charge anyway,” Reynolds said. “I guess I look at it as, I had the confidence I could handle things. It was just having the leadership ability and getting the rest of the organization to follow you.
“I think we did that,” he continued. “You go and ask any of the troops out there and they’ll tell you I’m a straight shooter.”
There were some challenges, he conceded, especially because, as Reynolds described it, Morse didn’t help much in the way of transition on his way out.
But Reynolds, ever unflappable, only chuckled as he described being thrown into the deep end just in time for National Police Week, when the president comes to the Capitol to participate in a ceremony honoring law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
Then came the summer concert series, when severe weather prompted mass evacuations at the very last minute.
Another part of Reynolds’ job as acting chief was dealing with the grievances of the Capitol Police Labor Committee, whose leadership contended that Morse left Reynolds with the hard task of defending bad policies he had put in place or allowed to persist without intervening.
Reynolds denied that union interactions were a thorn in his side, saying he always had a good relationship with union President Jim Konczos and he didn’t see union-management disputes as defining his tenure.
He didn’t say much about what it was like to be passed over by the Capitol Police Board to assume the role as full-time chief in favor of an outsider.
“It was rumored I’d put in for the job and yes, I did, and some of the other chiefs did, too,” Reynolds said. “And they picked the best man for the job. He’s here and we’re here to the support him.”
He didn’t make it sound like a slight, saying he loved the department that “protects the legislative process” and that’s been a home to him.
Reynolds’ career started with another officer who climbed the ranks alongside him and was directing traffic with him that cold day in January 1985: Dan Nichols, who preceded Reynolds as assistant chief before he left in 2011.
“It’s a very rewarding job here. You sit on the sidelines of history, if you think about it,” Reynolds mused. “Everyone does. The officers … we try to make them realize how important they are. Unlike Dan Nichols and Tom Reynolds standing out there in the intersection freezing 26 years ago!”
He laughed and shook his head.
Of coming full circle, Reynolds said it’s “surreal.”