Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today wrote a letter to the House and Senate committees on appropriations and on administration asking for an investigation into whether the new Capitol Police radio system will be interoperable with the appropriate federal and local law enforcement authorities and whether the system is the state-of-the-art system that post-9/11 conditions for safeguarding the Capitol require. Norton's concern was stimulated by information that has come to her office and by recent incidents that cast doubt on whether the new system being tested is fully interoperable and otherwise meets the state-of-the-art standards. The car chase from the White House to the Capitol grounds that resulted in a mentally unstable woman being shot and the Navy Yard shooting demonstrated the lack of ability of the Capitol Police to communicate with other law enforcement authorities during emergency situations, and it is not yet clear that the new system will meet high standards of interoperability. Twelve years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, even after the 9/11 Commission criticized the inability of law enforcement and first responder radios to communicate, serious interoperability issues persist. While testing has begun on the new Capitol Police radio system, doubts have been raised that it may not be fully interoperable, not unlike the current system, and the project has far exceeded its initial cost estimate.
Norton, in her letter, wrote, "If Capitol Police had had interoperable radios with Secret Service on October 3, the barricade on Pennsylvania Avenue might have been raised stopping the car before it made its way onto the Capitol complex I ask that you assure that the new system has interoperability with Secret Service, Supreme Court, other federal agencies and local police I am also concerned about doubts that have been raised that the new Capitol Police radio system may not be able to meet today's challenges. This modernization project has dragged on for years and has gone vastly over its intended cost, now totaling over $105 million, more than triple the initial cost estimate. I write to ask whether the goals of increased coverage and interoperability will be attained and whether the new system will be fully interoperable to meet today's post-9/11 standards."
In 1997, Norton succeeded in including a provision in the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act to provide the Metropolitan Police Department with crime prevention and law enforcement assistance from federal law enforcement agencies, including the Capitol Police. As such, the Capitol Police's jurisdiction expanded beyond the Capitol grounds, and efficient and interoperable communication between the Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies has become increasingly vital.
The full text of Norton's letter follows.
November 5, 2013
Dear Chairwoman Shaheen and Chairmen Schumer, Alexander, and Miller:
I am pleased that the Capitol Police has begun testing its new radio system, and I appreciate the commitment the committees of jurisdiction have shown towards ensuring that the Capitol Police keep the Capitol complex safe. However, I am concerned that the new radios may not be interoperable with other federal and local police. The recent car chase and shooting on the Capitol grounds on October 3 and the shooting at Navy Yard on September 16 demonstrated that the Capitol Police do not have radios that are interoperable with all other federal law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) 12 years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If the Capitol Police had had interoperable radios with the Secret Service on October 3, the Capitol Police barricade on Pennsylvania Avenue might have been raised -- stopping the car before it made its way onto the Capitol complex. I am writing to make sure there will be no holes in emergency response.
The 9/11 Commission criticized the inability of law enforcement and first responder radios to communicate, but interoperability issues apparently continue a decade after 9/11. Currently, the Capitol Police radios are not interoperable with other federal police, including the Secret Service, as we saw at the shooting at the Capitol, the Supreme Court police, the Park Police, and MPD. I am aware that Capitol Police do monitor MPD radios. The Capitol Police Communications Division and the Command Operations Center monitor the MPD radio network, and if there is a significant event, the Communications Division or the Command Operations Center relay that information to Capitol Police officers over radio. This, of course, is not interoperability.
I understand that all Capitol Police patrol vehicles may have MPD radios, but foot patrol officers do not have such radios. Equally troubling, the Containment and Emergency Response Team (CERT) does not have MPD radios in each of its patrol vehicles. It has only one MPD radio in their armored vehicle, one in their equipment truck, and two handheld MPD radios to be shared by an on-duty cell of ten to twelve officers.
I ask that you ensure that the new system has interoperability with the Secret Service, the Supreme Court police, other federal law enforcement agencies and MPD. Some of these forces frequently patrol and respond to events near, and sometimes on, the Capitol grounds. For example, during the incident on October 3, Capitol Police officers throughout the Capitol complex did not know about the car racing down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol until the car hit the barricades and officers heard a report over their radios of shots fired at Garfield Circle. Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer has stated that the Secret Service and the Capitol Police operate on different radio frequencies, and thus they were unable to directly communicate with one another. Will the new system correct this inability to communicate?
Another question I have is whether the Capitol Police will in fact be using multi-band radios on the new system, which would more easily facilitate interoperability. On the day of the Navy Yard shooting, the Navy Yard campus was equipped with a state-of-the-art radio system that supported multi-band radios. However, that campus was in possession of single-band radios. Since the incident, the Navy Yard has placed an order for multi-band radios, and these radios will make interoperability easier to achieve. It is possible that the new Capitol Police radio system will support multi-band radios, but it is unclear whether the Capitol Police has purchased multi-band radios, or whether the new radios will still be single-band radios.
I am also concerned about doubts that have been raised that the new Capitol Police radio system may not be able to meet today's challenges. This modernization project has dragged on for years and has gone vastly over its intended cost, now totaling over $105 million, more than triple the initial cost estimate. I write to ask whether the goals of increased coverage and interoperability will be attained and whether the new system will be fully interoperable to meet today's post-9/11 standards.
I am sure you agree that it is important that the Capitol Police radio system is interoperable with all federal and local police so that we are adequately prepared and protected. A Roll Call article from October 31, 2013 indicates that the new radio system "facilitates post-9/11 interoperability requirements," but these radios do not appear to be interoperable. Therefore, I would like to request that the committees conduct an inquiry or investigation into whether the new radio system will provide interoperability with other federal police forces in D.C. and MPD, and whether it is the state-of-the-art design that post-9/11 conditions for safeguarding the Capitol campus require.