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Some House members forgo program to boost their home security

Up to $10,000 available to lawmakers for motion sensors, cameras, locks and other measures

Capitol Police are seen on the East Front Plaza of the Capitol.
Capitol Police are seen on the East Front Plaza of the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As some members of Congress are getting threats on their lives, others are not taking advantage of extra money from a House program meant to improve security at their residences.

Members for the past 18 months have been entitled to $10,000 to implement or bolster existing security at their homes under a program administered by the House sergeant-at-arms that was started under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The voluntary service can be used to install motion sensors, cameras, locks and other measures to fortify the homes of lawmakers, and to provide up to $150 per month for monitoring and maintenance costs.

While officials say more than half of lawmakers have participated in the program, some House members say they have no interest in adding those features, haven’t gotten around to it yet, or have found parts of the program’s requirements too burdensome.

Among those is Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who said his daughter encouraged more security because a group of people had showed up at his house looking for him — but he’s not interested.

“You know, I’m old. I’m 65. Jesus, I’m ready for the rocking chair. But anyhow, the culture that I grew up in and the region that I grew up in and served in, I just don’t feel that threatened,” Amodei said.

Amodei acknowledged that stance could change. “I’m not Medal of Honor material,” he said. “I just don’t feel — now that might all change in a week — but, right now, I don’t feel threatened.”

CQ Roll Call spoke to 20 lawmakers from various parts of the country who offered widely different experiences and opinions on the program, a small sample of the people the Capitol Police and House sergeant-at-arms protect in Washington and across the country.

It’s a sensitive subject. The Capitol Police has said it is overwhelmed with vetting threats and concerning statements aimed at members, and lawmakers have been targeted by a surge of fake 911 calls designed to induce a potential deadly law enforcement response to their home.

“We encourage the Members to take advantage of all of the security opportunities that are available to them,” Capitol Police spokesperson Brianna Burch said.

Some House members flatly said they wouldn’t discuss their home security status, saying it’s “nobody’s business,” and others paused, trying to find a polite way to say they don’t want to talk about it. Some agreed to discuss their situation if they were not identified.

A Democrat from a suburban Northeastern district said he has no security and hasn’t gotten around to participating in the program. A Republican from a rural Midwestern area said he doesn’t have security at his home because he lives in a small town.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has reported being the target of many swatting calls and death threats, declined to talk about it.

“I really don’t want to go into public detail about how I protect my home and protect myself because then you’re setting me up for bigger problems. So, no thank you,” Greene said.

Home protection

Others say they have not used the program. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., has had numerous threats against him and his family and already has security in place, but said he hasn’t used the program because it was “very cumbersome.”

Last month, a Florida man, Michael Shapiro, was arrested for threatening to kill Swalwell and his children in a series of voicemails left at his congressional office in Washington, the AP reported.

Swalwell said the program is not convenient because members must make immediate improvements in response to threats — for example, “when someone’s calling and saying ‘I’m gonna kill your wife and kids.’”

“There’s just a long approval and reimbursement program,” Swalwell said.

Under the program, those who already had a home protection system can transfer upkeep costs to the sergeant-at-arms and use the $10,000 to upgrade their infrastructure.

Lawmakers pick a security system company to perform an assessment and give an itemized quote, which needs to be submitted to and approved by the sergeant-at-arms. There are limits on what members can use the funds for, such as building an entirely new wall, House Administration Chairman Bryan Steil, R-Wis., said.

Other lawmakers haven’t dipped into the funds to upgrade and maintain systems, which covers recurring billing expenses, because they say the process is too onerous.

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., who already had a high-tech security system at his home stemming from his days as a police officer at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, said that participating in the sergeant-at-arms program is not a priority and has hurdles.

“You have to get pricing on an invoice from a company and you have to submit that to the House and they have to review it and approve it in advance,” Higgins said. “And it’s this whole process that I just haven’t had the energy to fool with. It’s not a priority for me.”

Higgins swears by cameras and says alarm systems are less effective, so he doesn’t use those.

“I have state of the art cameras everywhere so that the detectives can solve the crime if me and my family get cut down, or so that I can defend myself if I have to take action to defend my property and my home,” Higgins said.

The camera feed, which can discern the difference between a dog and a human, links to Higgins’ phone, he said, though he doesn’t spend much time monitoring that for other reasons.

“I don’t spend much time on my phone looking at that because my wife, hoo boy, you definitely don’t want to cross my wife in that way. So my wife is there and she’s the primary security at the house,” Higgins said.

Another former police officer, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., has a security system that he had installed in his New York home dating back to his days as an NYPD detective, a career in which he put away a high number of violent offenders involved in gangs.

“When you put criminals away, you usually have a camera system,” D’Esposito said.

Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., already had a security system in place with cameras. “I took care of that myself,” she said.

Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, D-Fla., installed cameras at his home as he was mounting a run for Congress because he was getting harassed and stalked. He’s planning to move eventually and said he will use the residential security program money when he does.

“I feel pretty comfortable with that, but the thing is that I’ll move at some point, you know, and like, you get $10,000 lifetime. So in my head, I’m like, I’ll just wait until I’m in a place where maybe I’m going to be a little bit longer before I spend it,” Frost said.

Steil, whose panel has oversight of the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms, said a “significant” number of his colleagues have taken part in the program. Steil declined to comment on his personal security situation.

More security

Many members said they were pleased that the funds are made available for home security and that it is a beneficial program.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who had been subject to threatening behavior, didn’t have a security system set up at his home until the program was rolled out.

“I had somebody putting nails in my tires,” he said, adding, “my wife feels safer” after they had security put in.

Other members, such as Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., said they use the program for regular billing cycles.

One member who has been a constant target of former President Donald Trump’s verbal attacks is Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. Although she already had a security system, she used the program to further fortify her home.

“You have to remember, Donald Trump’s been going after me for a while. I had one. They upgraded it. They made it more serious,” Dingell said.

There are mixed reviews on whether the program has been beneficial. Members own the contract with the security company and are tasked with picking the vendor, either a local company or a national one like ADT.

Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., said the program lacked top-notch equipment. He said the camera system installed in his home was “third rate” and left him feeling like those tasked with securing members don’t care enough about the rank-and-file members.

“Look, I’ve long felt that the assassination of a member of Congress is not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” Torres said. “The security of rank-and-file members is far from a priority for the Capitol Police if you want my blunt opinion. I feel like it’s checking the box.”

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