Amid increased concern about lawmakers’ safety in the wake of Wednesday’s shooting, Congress is considering a request from the U.S. Capitol Police to boost its budget by about $33 million to hire 72 more officers and ramp up security at congressional buildings and parking garages.
Police Chief Matthew Verderosa warned House members last month that there are not enough officers to “provide the complete and necessary resources to meet all of our mission requirements.” The department’s current budget has funding for 1,871 officers and 372 civilian employees.
Members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees are in the process of crafting legislation that will include money for the Capitol Police — funding that has become more urgent after a gunman shot and critically wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., at a suburban Virginia ball field Wednesday morning as Republican lawmakers were practicing for the annual congressional baseball game. Four other people, including two Capitol Police officers, also were injured.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, said the panel is working to reschedule a hearing on Capitol Police funding that was cancelled Wednesday because of the shooting.
“We hope to have an understanding of their needs to continue to adequately protect Congress and the Capitol Complex, and what additional resources may be needed in light of (Wednesday’s) event,” the senator said Thursday.
Verderosa, in testimony before the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee last month, said understaffing at the department means that officers are working overtime and don’t have time for training in how to respond to the rise in terrorist attacks.
“We are seeing the nature of threats changing,” he told the subcommittee on May 18 as he asked for a budget increase of about 8.5%, for a total budget of $427 million. “Today, there are no routine traffic stops. There are no routine activities, as we have seen a rise in terrorist organizations attacking public venues. … Every event on Capitol Grounds, from demonstrations to concerts to Members crossing the street for votes, must be considered to be at risk.”
In addition to the 72 additional officers, Verderosa is seeking funding for 48 more civilian employees.
The chief is asking for $2.1 million to fund an alternate command center that police can use if their current center at police headquarters loses power or cannot be accessed in an emergency.
Verderosa said he also wants to step up security measures at House parking garages and do more pre-screening at various access points to congressional buildings. He also wants to expand the use of portable scanners, which are now used mainly to screen people before major events at the Capitol such as joint sessions of Congress.
Lawmakers said Thursday they also are considering putting provisions in the 2018 spending bill that would give members of Congress more flexibility to use their office funds for personal security, especially in their district offices in their home states.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said Thursday he is considering what to do about security at his offices. He said he and most other lawmakers have received threatening emails.
“I just started my third term so I’ve been here four years and six months,” Perry said on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. “In the beginning, at town halls, we would inform local police … and they would often send an officer just to be present for the town hall meeting.” But as town halls have become more heated, Perry said, “it is a circumstance where we must have much more robust security. It is not only about you (the Congress member). You have a bunch of people that you are responsible for their security as well. And that comes out of our (office) budget.”
Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., said he’s not worried about his own safety and doesn’t need personal protection despite what happened to Scalise, who is his friend and Louisiana colleague.
Abraham said he’s more worried about the safety of his staff and will urge them to be more vigilant. Meanwhile, he’s not changing his routine.
“I’m not going to cancel any events. I’m not going to change my schedule,” he said. “I’m going to be who I’ve always been.”
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., also said he doesn’t want any extra personal protection beyond what’s provided at the Capitol complex.
“I don’t want to live like that,” he said. “I just think people need to stop hating on each other.”
Contributing: Deborah Barfield Berry