James M. Powell

Capitol Police Chief

James M. Powell, 91, the first chief of the U.S. Capitol Police after the force was separated from the D.C. police department, died July 18 of congestive heart failure at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. He was a resident of Lake Linganore in Frederick County.

His legacy included transforming the Capitol Police from a group of untrained security guards who owed their jobs to the patronage system into a professional police force guarding the 181-acre Capitol complex. He was instrumental in establishing the Federal Police Academy at Glynco, Ga., and he insisted on the installation of a pistol range beneath the Capitol, where officers are required to qualify annually. He upgraded police communications, initiated the use of bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs and equipped officers patrolling the Capitol grounds with bicycles and radios.

"Some members of Congress think we have too many police officers," he told The Washington Post in 1979. "We all agree we like to have a revelation of our free democratic society, keeping our public buildings open, but with all the dissidents who come here to raise hell, we have to be prepared to protect the peace."

Mr. Powell was born on a farm in Chapel Hill, Tenn., and came to Washington in 1934 looking for work. After a range of jobs that included hotel bellhop and insurance salesman, he joined Washington's Metropolitan Police Department in 1940.

He spent six years in the 5th Precinct as a patrolman and precinct detective before being promoted to detective sergeant and being assigned to the robbery squad. In 1953, he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to command plainclothes detectives in the 3rd District. Five years later, he became a captain and was assigned to the U.S. Capitol, where he served as commanding officer of the security detail for the U.S. Senate.

In 1965, he became an inspector and designated chief of the U.S. Capitol Police within the D.C. police. In 1980, Congress transferred Mr. Powell from the D.C. police department and made him the first chief of the U.S. Capitol Police on the rolls of the legislative branch and separated from the D.C. police.

Mr. Powell's law enforcement career included the capture of one of the Puerto Rican nationalists convicted of the attempted assassination of President Harry S. Truman in 1950. He was one of the plainclothes detectives assigned to cover Truman on his morning constitutionals around the Tidal Basin, and he also helped protect the Capitol during the unrest, marches and riots of the 1960s and 1970s.

After retiring in 1984, Mr. Powell enjoyed growing roses in his garden.

Survivors include his wife of 67 years, Dorothy Forsht Powell of District Heights; three sons, Jim Powell of Chesapeake, Va., John Powell of Ijamsville and Joe Powell of Manassas; a sister; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.