'I Think People Appreciate Us More'
By Guy Gugliotta and Juliet Eilperin
Not yesterday. With two of their number murdered and lying in honor in flag-draped coffins in the Capitol rotunda, the police yesterday were getting shoulder squeezes, handshakes and hugs.
Staff members and reporters who had passed Officer Anna Hogewood at the Senate security entrance for months with barely a glance stopped and introduced themselves. A retired officer gave her a hug. A Senate aide handed her a bag of zucchini bread.
"I think people appreciate us more," Hogewood said. "There are people that are just thanking us."
Across the Capitol at the House door, a woman burst into tears as she passed through the security entrance. The gate officer blinked his eyes, looked at the ceiling and composed himself. Nearby his partner, Officer Virgil Van Fleet, got an enormous hug from a young staffer.
"This is the best part," Van Fleet told the woman with a gentle smile, patting her on the shoulder as she left the building.
Officer Jerry Hynes has the unenviable job of monitoring car traffic between the Longworth and Rayburn buildings, constantly surveying for the prospect of a car bomber. But in the past few days instead of dirty looks from drivers Hynes has been inundated with condolence e-mails from police officials as far away as South Africa. On Saturday a former staff member brought pizza loaded with toppings and sodas to the Capitol Police headquarters in Longworth where Hynes works.
"He broke down sobbing," he said of the former aide. "There wasn't a dry eye in the place."
In the first floor Crypt, just below the Rotunda, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) stopped in midstride and wordlessly embraced Officer P. Speights, guarding the sealed Document Door area where Russell E. Weston Jr. burst into the Capitol last Friday and, according to police, shot Officer Jacob J. Chestnut in the head.
"He was an excellent officer, a very professional-type guy," Speights said of Chestnut, as another acquaintance gripped his hand and patted him on the arm.
"How you doing?" the passerby asked.
"I'm holding up," Speights said.
But holding up was a near thing, for some. Officer Cecile Chapman was in the Capitol on Friday during the shooting and still cannot shake the memory "of people running down the stairs: their faces, their screams, the kids that were falling. I don't remember . . . drawing my gun. I just know I was there."
And even with all the sympathy, yesterday was "a dark day, a very dark day," Chapman said as she stood guard outside the office of Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). "When we first came on duty you could feel a very somber note."
Staff members handed Hogewood bouquets of flowers at the security gate, and she took them outside and laid them on the Capitol steps along with others honoring Chestnut and Detective John M. Gibson, killed when he confronted the gunman in the Capitol offices of House Minority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
Van Fleet, a jovial West Virginian only a year younger than Chestnut, shook hands and shared quick embraces with Reps. Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.), W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) and other lawmakers as they came through the door. "I've never seen so many congressmen with tears in their eyes," Van Fleet said. "This really hit home."
It was an unusual sensation for some officers, sometimes treated as an annoyance by fast-moving staffers whose keys set off the security door magnetometer or frustrated tourists wandering into restricted areas in search of a candy bar or a toilet.
Officer Rod Myers, a 27-year veteran of the force, said the public was showing more understanding yesterday for the force's eternal challenge: how to offer a welcoming face while maintaining the authority of a professional police department.
"Everyone up here is important," Myers said. "We don't take that lightly. But they couldn't seem to understand that we had to hold them up" at the gates.
Still, the officers' everyday reserve comes with the job. Most days police will not answer reporters' questions, referring all inquiries to the force's press office. While the requirement was waived yesterday, many officers stuck to the old formula -- the polite brushoff.
Others, however, seemed almost anxious to talk. Conrad Eaddy and Charles Brown, young officers assigned as ceremonial guards in the Rotunda, recalled Chestnut in particular as a pro who showed new officers the ropes: "His notebook was his bible," said Brown. "He wrote down everything, and he taught all of us to 'hold yourself accountable.' "
But Chestnut was also a mingler, who loved the Document Door and the variety of people he encountered there. It was the favorite entrance of Gingrich and DeLay and a preferred hangout for visitors buying souvenirs from the nearby gift shop.
"He knew Chinese," Eaddy said, "and he was always teaching us how to say 'hello' and 'step back.' There are a lot of people who come here who don't understand English."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company