- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000

The U.S. Capitol compound is no more secure than it was in 1998 when two police officers were shot and killed, despite millions more dollars in funding and pledges to make it safer, according to officers, Capitol officials and a member of Congress who has worked there for 10 years.

The most extreme situation occurred last month on Martin Luther King Day, when only one officer was stationed at the northwest door of the Dirksen Senate Office Building and admitted 700 staffers and members of the public.

"This is unacceptable," said Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat.

Mr. Wellstone raised the issue Wednesday and Thursday on the Senate floor, and said he will speak every day on this "intolerable" situation.

"I don't think there can be any possible excuse for not living up to our commitment that at least two police officers be at every one of these posts," Mr. Wellstone said.

Senate Sergeant at Arms James W. Ziglar told The Washington Times that he shared Mr. Wellstone's concern.

"We should not have any door the public can access with less than two officers," Mr. Ziglar said.

"If an officer goes down and there is not another officer there to back him up and stop an intruder, they could run throughout the building and do substantial damage."

Mr. Ziglar said a manpower study of the department showed they need an additional 700 officers, but he said hiring 260 more officers would ensure that two officers are posted at all public doors.

Congress passed an emergency spending bill in response to the shooting, giving U.S. Capitol Police an additional $106 million over two years for security enhancements, weapons, vests and overtime.

The bill called for additional overtime because the department was severely undermanned and the funds would help keep more officers on the beat and permit two officers to man each public door.

According to Officer John Lucas, chairman of the department's labor committee, the department is instead playing a shell game to give the appearance two officers are manning the doors.

"They're robbing Peter to pay Paul" by pulling officers off other posts, Officer Lucas said.

"In some cases, it has compromised our standard approach to security," he said.

Officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson were fatally shot by a man who made his way into the U.S. Capitol July 24, 1998.

Russell Eugene Weston Jr. is accused of breaching a Capitol security post and shooting the officers with a .38-caliber revolver. Weston was shot three times at the Capitol but survived. He has yet to be found competent to stand trial.

Meanwhile, police shut down a section of the Capitol's first floor for two hours Thursday after a senior staffer reported witnessing a woman pouring an unidentified liquid into a ventilation grate.

Most offices were not notified of the situation and business went on as usual.

Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said it was never considered a serious threat, but the police went through standard procedures for assessing a biological or chemical material threat.

"Since the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway we have been very cognizant of the fact we are vulnerable … so we have developed a good and thorough response capability," Mr. Nicholson said.

According to Mr. Nicholson, about 10:50 a.m. the staffer saw a white female, about 5 feet 2, pour liquid from a vial into a brass, decorative grate in the floor.

Police cordoned off the immediate area and searched the ducts inside the grate, but could not find a liquid or any sign of either biological or hazardous materials.

The first notice that most people in the building had of the incident came around noon, when Capitol police announced they would brief reporters on "the security situation."

A number of staff and reporters said they were relieved not to have been ejected from the building for such a minor incident.

But several police officers said they had a number of concerns, not the least of which was that they were never told exactly what was going on.

Several also questioned the decisions against evacuating the building, clearing people from a possible chemical threat, or sealing the building to quarantine a possible biological threat.

John Godfrey contributed to this report.

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