Within the institutional hierarchy of Capitol Hill, stepping outside the chain of command to tell your boss’s boss what’s on your mind might seem like a risky idea. But that’s exactly what Capitol Police sources say they have been encouraged to do recently — better that than go to the media.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin and his counterpart in the House, Paul D. Irving, have been making the rounds at police roll calls, telling officers they have permission to come directly to their doors if they feel like Capitol Police management is not being responsive to a problem, according to multiple sources who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. The officials, who sit on the Capitol Police Board along with Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers, warn “no good” comes from going to the press with problems, the sources said.
Dropping by the roll calls, where officers present themselves to their supervisors for inspection and get briefed before their shifts, is something Irving has done two or three times each year since he was sworn in on Jan. 17, 2012, as the House’s 36th sergeant-at-arms.
“Paul Irving and I have made an effort to attend USCP roll calls recently, as our predecessors did during their tenures,” Larkin said in an email. Currently serving as chairman of the police board, Larkin started his senior role in the Senate at the beginning of the 114th Congress, continuing a career in law enforcement and national security.
“As Members of the Capitol Police Board, we are attending to show our support of the USCP and give the officers an opportunity to interact with us and ask questions,” he continued. “Our intent is always to build morale, strengthen the department and refocus on the mission of the USCP, so its concentration is on safety and security 100% of the time.”
Asked about the roll calls, the department provided a statement referring to Chief Kim C. Dine’s aim to improve internal communication and expressing appreciation for the sergeants-at-arms’ support of that objective.
“Consistent with Chief Dine’s commitment to provide better communication throughout the Department as outlined in the Department’s new Strategic Plan, the Capitol Police Board has shown its support for the men and women of the Department by meeting with as many officers as possible,” department spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider said in an email.
“Their support for Chief Dine’s goal for better communication within the Department is greatly appreciated,” she stated. “As always, the U.S. Capitol Police appreciates the Board’s support, as well as the support from all of our congressional oversight committees for the work that our men and women do every day to keep the Capitol Complex a safe place to visit and work.”
The agency’s reputation has taken some tough blows in the six weeks since Roll Call’s report of three instances in which officers left guns unattended around the Capitol. Police launched a hunt for the source behind the photo of one unattended Glock and members of Congress wondered if the Freedom of Information Act-proof agency might be concealing security hazards.
Meanwhile, the department learned it was being trolled on CapitolPolice.us. The site appeared to be established by someone who wears — or recently wore — a Capitol Police badge and wanted to attack both department brass and the senior House and Senate officials in charge of security.
On May 20, Dine was asked to account for the security lapses by House lawmakers during a House Administration Committee hearing. Members also questioned if the chain of command was effective — including the Capitol Police Board. Dine’s mention of new weapons safety training to reinforce proper gun handling while using the bathroom became the butt of a late-night TV joke from Jimmy Kimmel.
The chamber seems to be using its power of the purse to carry out oversight of the department. In a June 11 report, Senate appropriators directed Capitol Police to submit a report on how the department prepares for and plans to respond to emerging threats. The committee asked for specifics on coordination with the Department of Defense, Secret Service and Park Police.
Capitol Police would see its budget boosted by more than $18 million in fiscal 2016 under the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, with an increase of $5 million specifically provided to ensure base funding for training. In the report, the Appropriations Committee encourages the department “to consider a rotation policy for sworn personnel, so that all sworn officers have the opportunity to gain additional experience through varied assignments.”
Capitol Police is also directed to review its officers’ duties and see if any of the work could instead be done by civilians “so that USCP’s highly trained officers may perform primarily sworn activities.” The report suggests the command center, communications, training, firearms instruction and special events.
Finally, senators seem to be concerned about the amount of time officers spend using cellphones while on post. The department is directed “to continue to address this matter and report back to the Committee on its efforts to alleviate such distractions,” the report states.