What would it take to change the culture of the Capitol Police? It’s a question one member of Congress mulled as the agency drew criticism this week over an internal newsletter warning of potential “fireworks” during Saturday’s Million Man March rally.
Rep. Rich Nugent, a Florida Republican and former sheriff, suggested the problem lies in Congress’ antiquated oversight structure — and maybe the speaker. The Capitol Police Board, which has jurisdiction over the department, includes two men appointed by chamber leadership, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin, plus Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers, a presidential appointee.
“I understand why they do that, but it really is archaic and I don’t think it really goes to good law enforcement,” Nugent said during an interview in the speaker’s lobby. “They’re the ones that have to hold [Capitol Police] accountable. Because I don’t hold the sergeant at arms of the House accountable. Who does? The speaker of the House. He’s an appointee of the speaker, right?”
Nugent sits on the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Capitol Police Board and day-to-day security operations. It is one of the few committees with a leader appointed directly by the speaker. The Sept. 17 newsletter, which surfaced in The Washington Post on Oct. 6, raised concerns about Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan’s return to Washington, D.C., on Saturday. He will mark the 20th anniversary of the march on the National Mall.
For Capitol Police, that means a 4 a.m. roll call to prepare for major protest activity.
“By policing standards, the inaugural Million Man March was a success as the event was relatively violence free — and there were no major arrests, despite hundreds of thousands of attendees,” the newsletter stated. “But given today’s negative racial climate and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there are legitimate concerns that the second march may not be as peaceful. And if Farrakhan’s rabble-rousing rhetoric leading up to the march is any indication, there certainly may be a few fireworks.”
Retiring Chief Kim C. Dine has sought to distance himself from the Sept. 17 memo, which was later rescinded.
On Thursday, Dine and his senior management sat down for “several hours” with the organizers of the “Justice or Else!” event, including Farrakhan’s executive staff, according to Richard Muhammad, who is managing communications for the rally. Dine apologized, according to Muhammad.
The chief said the newsletter was released by the Protective Services Bureau, Division of Intelligence and Information Analysis, and said he did not authorize, review or approve the document.
“This document was poorly constructed, without attribution, and does not reflect the viewpoint or values of the United States Capitol Police, nor was it intended to provide instruction or guidance to our employees,” the department said in an email to CQ Roll Call. “Upon learning of the release of this document, immediate and appropriate steps were taken to ensure this type of incident does not occur again, including an active, open, internal investigation regarding this matter.”
Despite the chief’s attempts to correct the matter, it has become another flashpoint in already tense relations with the union.
“This newsletter should be condemned by the Capitol Police Board,” Jim Konczos, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee, said in an interview with CQ Roll Call the day after the department’s 1,700 officers were sent the missive. He accused the top brass of “race baiting.”
When cultural concerns plagued the Secret Service, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, made it his mission to expose and reform the federal law enforcement agency.
“Well, I’ve been focused on the Secret Service, so I can only answer for that, but you’d have to really talk to House Administration. It is their jurisdiction,” Chaffetz told CQ Roll Call.
Rep. Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., the chairwoman of the committee, has also questioned the chain of command for Capitol Police. During a sit-down interview, she called the board an “odd structure” and a “holdover from over 100 years ago.” She said she had been “a bit vocal” about the search for the next chief.
The Million Man March team said they are hopeful the event will be just as peaceful as past visits to Washington.
“There is no gloating, if you will, on our side, because what we want is an event that’s safe … to be in a position where truth is spoken,” Muhammad said.
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