Park Police Rebuked For Weak Security

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2008

The U.S. Park Police have failed to adequately protect such national landmarks as the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and are plagued by low morale, poor leadership and bad organization, according to a new government report.

The force is understaffed, insufficiently trained and woefully equipped, the report by the Interior Department's inspector general concludes. Hallowed sites on the Mall are weakly guarded and vulnerable to terrorist attack, the inspector general's office found.

The report includes a photograph of what it says is an officer apparently sleeping in a patrol vehicle at the Jefferson Memorial. It describes a Park Police officer doing a crossword puzzle. And it recounts someone leaving a suitcase against the south wall of the Washington Monument, where it sat unattended for five minutes until its owner reclaimed it.

Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford, although not identified by name, is singled out for criticism, and one of the report's 20 recommendations is that the National Park Service examine whether he is "equipped to effectively advance the mission and operations of the agency."

Pettiford yesterday defended the work of the force under his command, saying in a telephone interview that he inherited some of the problems identified in the report when he took command in 2004. Others are being addressed, he said, adding that he has essentially done the best with what he has.

"We've continued to move the mission forward under my tenure," he said. "It's moved further than it has in the last 15 years. We will continue to move it forward as long as I'm the chief."

Asked about the accusation that the monuments were not adequately protected, the police chief declared: "They're still standing."

The 40-page report, technically an "assessment," was based on more than 100 interviews of law enforcement personnel and staff as well as surveillance conducted last spring, summer and fall. The Washington Post obtained a copy of the report, which is expected to be made public today.

The review is, in part, an element of the government's continuing analysis of security at national parks and historical sites after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Security at national landmarks has been physically enhanced since then, with special barriers, perimeters and landscaping. But staffing levels as of last summer were lower than they were in 2001, the report says.

David Barna, chief spokesman for the National Park Service, said the service has 90 days to respond to the assessment.

"In advance of that, we're not going to say much," he said yesterday. A lot of the report "seemed to be innuendo and comment, and not so much factual information," he said. "We just need a chance to go through and respond to each of those 20 recommendations."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company