WASHINGTON – The U.S. Park Police force is understaffed and lacks the resources to secure the National Mall from a recent spike in violent crime,Democrats said today.
In the House Committee on Government Reform,Democrats called on the Senate to pass an appropriations bill that would increase funding for the Park Police by $4.5 million for next year. The measure has already cleared the House.
The committee heard testimony from representatives of D.C. area police forces,including Assistant Park Police Chief Michael Fogarty,who assured the committee that Park Police have stepped up patrols to secure the Mall following a series of violent crimes since May.
The violent crime rate is actually down from last year,Fogarty said.
On July 11,six tourists were robbed at gunpoint on the Mall in the fifth attack since May when six people were victimized in three attacks and a teenage girl was raped near the Smithsonian Metro stop.
“I hear that you are really under-equipped,” and that “you don't have the personnel to stretch across all of these venues,and I hear there are plans for the future,and it's all based on the budget,” Rep. Diane Watson,D-Calif.,said.
“We here in the Congress have a job to do,” Watson said,referring to the appropriations bill.
The appropriations bill would provide $2.8 million to increase staff to bring the number of Park Police officers to 649 by 2008,Fogarty said. The force has 605 sworn officers for the entire country,but Fogarty refused to say how many officers patrol the Mall. A majority is stationed in Washington.
But even if the bill passes,it will take about a year to train new officers,Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton,D-D.C.,said. She sent a letter to the Capitol Police board Thursday asking for temporary help patrolling the mall.
She called the proposed temporary assignment “a natural extension of the Capitol Police mission to protect members of Congress and visitors to the Capitol.”
Since 2002,the Capitol Police force has had a 105 percent funding increase,while the Park Police budget increased 23 percent,even though the Park Police patrol a greater area,she wrote.
“They have enough cops to spare,” Norton said in an interview.
Last week,the Park Police used emergency funding to shift both patrol hours and resources to increase the number of officers on the National Mall,Sgt. Scott Fear,a Park Police spokesman said. “We stepped up patrols immensely.”
Fogarty said some officers were redeployed and some are working overtime.
The Park Police borrowed officers from areas more dangerous than the Mall,Norton said,such as Anacostia Park,which is used mainly by D.C. residents. “It seems to me you have no sustained capacity to borrow police without putting other areas at risk,” she said.
“You really can't pull people from other parks without contributing to the crime emergency,” Norton said,referring to last week's declaration by Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey.