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Police protecting U.S. icons 'failed,' report says

  • Story Highlights
  • Report: Police protecting U.S. treasures understaffed, under-equipped, under-trained
  • U.S. Park Police torn between being urban police, protecting national icons
  • Report: Police have no comprehensive security program
  • Report: 27 of 110 closed-circuit TV cameras at Statue of Liberty were not working
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From Mike Ahlers
CNN
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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:

  • About 27 of the 110 closed-circuit TV cameras at Statue of Liberty facilities were not working.
  • Park Police officers were witnessed patrolling in a van that had no emergency lights or sirens. At the same time, two relatively new and well-equipped police cars were parked at one station, where they were being reserved for then-vacant police positions.
  • Private security guards hired by the Park Police to supplement officers at the Washington Monument were under-trained and ill-equipped, spoke little English and had little contact with the Park Police officers.
  • A large suitcase was left unattended against the Washington Monument wall for more than five minutes before being reclaimed by a visitor.
  • A grate leading to an area below the Washington Monument was open and unattended for about 20 minutes.
  • One officer appeared to be sleeping in a car at the Jefferson Memorial.
  • In Washington, one officer must monitor 96 closed-circuit TVs during a 12-hour shift.
  • 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 E-mail to a friend

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