- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

D.C. and federal officials yesterday agreed to allow emergency vehicles to proceed through the new security checkpoints set up throughout the city.

The agreement follows a report Friday in The Washington Times that ambulances and firetrucks rushing to emergencies were stopped at security checkpoints around the U.S. Capitol.

“We are very happy that these discussions have occurred,” said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. “We are confident that potential problems will be averted in the short term and improvement will be seen in service delivery in the long term.”

Mr. Etter said a specific improvement involved the establishment of a “ring-down line,” or a direct link among fire, emergency medical services communications and U.S. Capitol Police.

Under the agreement, dispatchers now will call Capitol Police if a fire engine or ambulance must pass through a security checkpoint to respond to an emergency. Police will then allow the emergency vehicles to pass without stopping at a checkpoint.

The latest agreement was reached during a 90-minute meeting organized by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who over the last week has criticized the tighter security imposed in the District.

Mrs. Norton said Sunday that her main priority was to discuss the closure of First Street NE. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey agreed yesterday that street closures were a priority.

Both said road closures will lead to more traffic congestion and could make a potential evacuation of the city more dangerous.

Yesterday’s meeting did not result in any street openings.

Chief Ramsey had complained that Capitol Police only gave him an hour’s notice last week before the officers shut down First Street NE. The closure came after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the terror alert to Code Orange on Aug. 1.

Chief Ramsey said yesterday the late notice was a “misunderstanding.”

“We had a miscommunication,” he said. “I don’t believe that will happen again.”

Officials agreed yesterday that D.C. and congressional security officials will meet monthly to “stay on top of things,” Chief Ramsey said.

Congressional security officials also agreed that in the future they will consult with D.C. officials before implementing new security measures, Mrs. Norton’s office said in a written statement.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who also complained last week about not being consulted about security measures, did not attend yesterday’s meeting.

But his spokesman Tony Bullock said yesterday the mayor wants “a seat at the table before decisions are made.”

“The mayor has reached out to the Senate and House leadership to ask them to reconsider the arrangement, because it’s not sustainable,” Mr. Bullock said.

Officials also decided to begin drafting a “comprehensive coordinated city security plan,” Mrs. Norton’s office said. The plan should help ensure “consistent and predictable implementation” of security measures, the statement reads.

Mrs. Norton had planned to discuss a fracas between Capitol Police and two D.C. journalists, however her statement did not indicate whether the incident was brought up during the meeting. The delegate’s office refused to give further comment.

Capitol Police approached the journalists in separate confrontations Friday after the two were spotted photographing security barricades on different sides of the Capitol.

One of them — Kathryn Sinzinger, editor and publisher of the Common Denominator newspaper — called the incidents “unlawful detentions” and said she was considering taking legal action against Capitol Police.

Mrs. Norton denounced the incident as a “shameful” example of federal security excesses. At the press conference Saturday, Mrs. Norton urged Capitol Police officials to release to the public a clear outline of acceptable behaviors.

A Capitol Police spokesman would not comment on the meeting yesterday.

The deputies to Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle attended yesterday’s meeting, as did the House sergeant-at-arms, City Administrator Robert C. Bobb and several other city officials.

Matt Cella contributed to this report.

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