- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

The U.S. Park Police is understaffed and continuing budget shortfalls have left it “hard-pressed” to respond to increasing crime on the Mall or meet expanded counterterrorism responsibilities, agency officers and others say.

The budget crunch has forced the country’s oldest uniformed federal police agency to cancel several important programs, they said, including new cadet training classes, and has resulted in a cut in the number of officers available to effectively patrol the Mall. The officers, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing their jobs, estimate the agency is understaffed by 20 percent.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, said the agency is so “hard-pressed” that on Friday she asked the U.S. Capitol Police to assign officers to help patrol the Mall.

Mrs. Norton said the Park Police has received funding increases of 23 percent since the September 11 terrorist attacks while Capitol Police has received funding increases of 105 percent.

However, she made clear that “beefing up protection” around potential terrorist targets such as the Capitol was “fully warranted.”

Park Police spokesman Sgt. Scott Fear said the agency is “looking into” Mrs. Norton’s request and added that several law-enforcement agencies assigned to the Mall area already are working together.

Sgt. Fear said the agency also is using emergency funding to add officers to the Mall and would continue to use available resources to provide security.

“But we believe the Mall is safe,” he said.

A dozen persons, including 10 tourists, have been the victims of armed robberies in the past month. Two of them were sexually assaulted.

Three attacks were reported in May, then two more the night of July 11, hours after the Metropolitan Police Department declared a crime emergency.

Park Police has 621 officers working foot, mounted, marine and air patrols.

In addition to protecting the Mall, they are responsible for patrolling monuments in the city, the Statute of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge and dozens of D.C., Maryland and Virginia parks. Officers also escort Vice President Dick Cheney.

By comparison, Capitol Police has 1,278 officers and is responsible for an 11-square block area around the U.S. Capitol.

Mrs. Norton made her request on the same day local and federal law-enforcement officials announced the formation of a Violent Crime Task Force to combat the increase in crime throughout District, including 13 homicides in the first 11 days of July.

Also on Friday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, signed into law a package of emergency measures approved by the D.C. Council that will include money for police overtime pay and surveillance cameras in neighborhoods.

The task force agreement includes assistance from practically every federal law-enforcement agency in the District. The FBI will help with investigations and surveillance while federal prosecutors assist them in the courts, as part of the task force agreement.

Several veteran Park Police officers noted that Teresa Chambers, as police chief, raised warnings in December 2003. She was suspended and later fired for telling reporters that the agency had neither enough officers nor resources to provide adequate security in a post-September 11 world.

She said continuing budget shortfalls made it impossible to recruit and hire officers, that funding levels threatened to reduce the staff to its lowest level since the 1980s, and that officers were hard-pressed to fulfill mandated patrol duties.

Some Park Police officers said the agency’s new chief, Dwight E. Pettiford, who replaced Mrs. Chambers in May 2005, has not pushed hard enough for funding increases and lacks the visibility to get Congress’ attention for additional manpower and other resources.

Others blamed the National Park Service, which oversees Park Police, for the budget shortfalls.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which represents Mrs. Chambers in her attempt to get back her job, said in a recent report the National Park Service told Congress in April 2000 that Park Police needed 806 officers. At the time, the agency had 638 officers, compared with 621 today.


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