- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A survey of U.S. Park Police officers shows 97 percent of those who responded lack confidence in Chief Dwight E. Pettiford and 98 percent do not think the agency is as prepared as others to respond to a terrorist attack.

The survey also found that 98 percent think the agency’s command staff was not doing its best to protect the public. In addition, 94 percent said inadequate staffing makes their work sites unsafe, and 85 percent described their work conditions as “unsatisfactory,” according to the survey.

“These results are extremely disappointing,” said James Austin of the Fraternal Order of Police, which conducted the survey. “If there has been a change in our mission, we have not been notified.”

Mr. Austin, chairman of the union’s Park Police Labor Committee, also asked that agency officials consider the survey findings if they want to improve morale.

Park Police spokesman Lt. Scott Fear confirmed that the agency had received the findings but said officials would not discuss them with a reporter.

Much of the criticism about Chief Pettiford, who was promoted to the job from a deputy position in March 2005, is that he has not pushed hard enough for funding increases.

The lack of federal funding for the agency has been a concern for years. Several field officers and supervisors, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing their jobs, say the situation is hurting the agency’s ability to accomplish its mission and is understaffed by at least 20 percent.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, has vowed to seek more money for the agency this year and has called ongoing budget shortfalls the result of “congressional neglect.”

Mrs. Norton, a Democrat, has said Park Police has received funding increases of 23 percent since the September 11 attacks, while Capitol Police have received funding increases of 105 percent. However, she made clear that bolstering protection around potential terrorist targets such as the Capitol was “fully warranted.” She also said Congress, not Chief Pettiford, should address the issues.

Former Chief Teresa C. Chambers, who was fired after making public statements in December 2003 about the lack of employees and resources, told The Washington Times that continuing budget shortages for the agency provide “a good opportunity for the new Congress to pick up this important issue.”

She said “a long history of insufficient staffing” contributed to the 2002 death of Officer Hakim Farthing, who was struck by a drunken driver while trying on foot to secure an accident scene on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Mrs. Chambers said Officer Farthing was killed because of an inadequate number of officers and police cars.

“I maintain that a contributing factor in Hakim’s death was the lack of adequate staffing,” she said.

Critics of Chief Pettiford, who replaced Mrs. Chambers, also say he 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.

This is not the first time agency officers have complained about inadequate funding and the potential for dangerous consequences.

In July, officers at Park Police, the country’s oldest uniformed federal police agency, said funding problems forced them to cancel several important programs, including cadet training classes.

Earlier this year, they said the lack of funding has resulted in vehicles too broken and dangerous to drive. Though no officer had been hurt or killed as a result of the shortfalls, “it is just a matter of time” before such an incident occurs, Mr. Austin said.

About 179 of the agency’s roughly 600 officers responded to the survey, which also found that 96 percent think they have inadequate equipment to carry out their duties during a terrorist attack. In addition, 72 percent thought their level of training was inadequate for their job and 60 percent said their special training or certifications were not up to date.

Roughly 85 percent said the “icons” the agency is assigned to protect from terrorist attacks — including the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument and the Golden Gate Bridge — were not as secure as they could be, according to the survey.

The agency also provides foot, mounted, marine and air patrols to protect the Mall, Rock Creek and Anacostia parks, the Baltimore-Washington and George Washington Memorial parkways and dozens of parks in the District, Maryland and Virginia. It also provides escort to Vice President Dick Cheney.

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