WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The federal police force responsible for protecting the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty and other national icons is understaffed, under-equipped, under-trained and demoralized, according to an assessment that echoes earlier studies.
Protesters in 2007 climb unimpeded on the Lincoln Memorial, which U.S. Park Police are assigned to protect.
The new report says the 592-officer U.S. Park Police force is torn between acting as an urban police department and protecting national icons, and consequently "has failed to adequately perform either mission."
Many terrorism experts say the national icons are prime terrorist targets because of their enormous symbolic value and their location at population centers. But, the report said, while Park Police officials state that icon protection is a priority, "their actions indicate otherwise."
The department has no "command-level" person responsible for icon protection, nor does it have a comprehensive security program, and the number of officers has fallen below 2001 levels, said Department of Interior Inspector General Earl E. Devaney.
A spokesman for the National Park Service, which oversees the department, said it received the report Friday and needs time to "separate fact from fiction" before responding.
He said some of the report's conclusions, such as that the department is understaffed, fail to take into consideration private security guards and closed-circuit televisions, which have increased security in recent years.
The U.S. Park Police, one of the oldest federal law enforcement agencies, provides police services at U.S. parks, at parks and monuments in the District of Columbia, at the Statue of Liberty in New York, and at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.
It has been the subject of numerous critical reports that have cited many of the same problems.
The inspector general says he began the latest assessment in April, and his investigators conducted more than 100 interviews and made numerous visits to Park Police sites, during which they collected documents and anecdotal information.
Among the report's findings:
The report says inspector general investigators who made 40 visits to Washington icons could not find any officers on three occasions, and found minimum staffing levels were not met on 27 occasions.
The inspector general said when an assistant chief was asked to explain the apparent absences, he said the police try to be unobtrusive because "being more visible is a sign of defeat."
"The assistant chief also justified the [Park Police's] security position by stating that terrorists are not incredibly sophisticated people," the report said.
Former Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, who was fired in 2004 after telling the Washington Post about the department's budget problems, said Monday the report "sounds almost parallel to what I was saying."
"I had 621 officers when I left. To have fallen even further is really unconscionable," she said.
Chambers, now chief of the 19-officer Riverdale Park, Maryland, Police Department, has appealed her dismissal. The case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals. E-mail to a friend
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