washingtonpost.com
Park Police Rebuked For Weak Security
Widespread Flaws Put U.S. Landmarks At Risk, Report Says

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."

The Park Police have 592 sworn officers, 97 civilian employees and 30 private security guards. The agency helps patrol sites mostly in Washington but also is present at the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge.

There have been several reviews critical of the force in recent years. The current assessment began in April after a Fraternal Order of Police survey suggested that Park Police officers were inadequately trained and equipped and that the monuments were not as safe as they could be.

The probe ended several months ago. The report's summary says the Park Police have struggled for years to handle the competing missions of protecting monuments and working as an urban police agency.

Consequently, the agency "has failed to adequately perform either mission, which has resulted in deficient security at national icons and monuments and an inability to effectively conduct police operations," the report says.

A major result is insufficient staffing at important sites. The report quotes a mid-level manager at the Statue of Liberty: "The truth is that we are not covering the posts. It's all smoke and mirrors."

Locally, private security guards have been hired to augment the force, but the inspector general found that some were ineffective, inattentive and apparently ill-trained. The report includes a photograph of what it says were private security guards at the Washington Monument, one reading a newspaper, the other talking on a cellphone.

It also recounts an incident last summer in which two protesters climbed into the lap of the Abraham Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial while confused-looking private security guards stood by and watched. There were no Park Police on hand for several minutes.

The report further states that Park Police officers were critical of the private guards, saying there was little cooperation or communication with them and that some did not speak English. It says the private security contractor was being replaced.

The inspector general's team made 40 visits to Washington sites. On three visits, no officers could be found, and on two dozen others, minimum staffing levels were not being met, the report says. It quotes an assistant Park Police chief as saying that the force was trying to be "as unobtrusive as possible because being more visible is a sign of defeat." The same commander said that terrorists "are not incredibly sophisticated," the report says.

A system of surveillance cameras is an aid but not a cure-all, the report says, because not all the cameras work and they do not appear to be constantly monitored.

The report also criticizes the force for failing to monitor the quality and wear and tear on officers' ballistic vests and for equipping its officers with old, high-mileage patrol cars.

Pettiford argued yesterday that he is dealing with long-standing problems. "We have new vehicles in the pipeline already," he said. "Our vehicles are coming."

He disputed other criticisms.

Regarding the photograph of the supposedly sleeping officer, he said: "You can't determine whether or not he is sleeping. I don't even know where that picture was taken or when that picture was taken."

"We've made tremendous progress in the last three years," he said, pointing to what he said was his department's successful handling of numerous huge events on the Mall.

"We work on the process every day," he said. "It's a continuing process of improving the system. . . . We will continue to improve it, . . . We will continue to be the Super Bowl team of law enforcement."

Pettiford was a top commander for Teresa C. Chambers, the department's first female chief, who was fired in 2004 after raising concerns about staffing and security.

Of the complaints about workplace morale, he said, "When you talk about morale, it depends on who you're asking. Is it an officer who's been denied something? . . . Or is it a young commander who is very innovative?

"When change comes, you're going to see people not accepting change," he said. "Sometimes people want to go back to the way things used to be."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company