A Republican Lawmaker Wants Answers on U.S. Park Police Staffing and Facilities Upkeep
Letter to the Interior Department follows an IG management advisory last month.
A top House Republican is seeking information on the staffing levels and conditions at the U.S. Park Police, after a watchdog advisory identified problems at a Washington, D.C. dispatch center that could put public safety at risk.
The Interior Department inspector general office issued a management advisory about the dispatch operations center last month, noting the workspace is “dilapidated” and contains a “black substance” throughout that employees believe is black mold. The advisory also described long-term deficiencies with staffing levels at the center, and a “complete absence of formal dispatch training for some dispatch personnel.”
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Government Operations panel, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Tuesday, provided to Government Executive ahead of its public release, expressing concerns following the management advisory as well as with other long-term challenges facing the Park Police.
“It is outrageous that federal law enforcement professionals are subjected to such conditions at all, let alone after … repeatedly identifying a ‘crisis’ in complaints to [Park Police] leadership,” wrote Hice. “In addition, these deficiencies place the public at risk, as evidenced by failure to respond to audible alarms.”
Hice asked Haaland for a member-level briefing by March 29 on staffing issues with the Park Police as well as a list of documents and information on the “dilapidated facilities, outdated technology, and safety concerns for officers or the public caused by staffing shortages;” Interior and the National Park Service’s responses to the concerns in the IG advisory; any staffing analysis of the Park Police; any analysis of overtime and its impact on offices or public safety; and retention and recruitment problems within the police force.
Hice noted that in June 2021 he introduced legislation that would change the Park Police’s pay scale to align it better with comparable agencies in hopes of increasing recruitment and retention of suitable officers. The legislation was only referred to the relevant committee.
Meanwhile, the IG issued the following recommendations as a result of its probe: review workspace and equipment issues as identified in the advisory and devise a corrective action plan with a timeline to fix them; develop minimum staffing requirements to meet the department’s requirement that dispatch centers are “adequately staffed;” establish and carry out training and any certification needed to meet the department’s requirement that dispatchers are “trained professionals and certified as required by bureau policy;” and put in place any more written procedures as required by the policies in the Interior Department’s law enforcement manual and the corresponding handbook.
Charles Sams III, director of the National Park Service, which houses the Park Police, agreed with the recommendations and outlined the steps the agency is taking to implement them.
"I am dismayed by the unacceptable conditions I saw during a personal inspection of the facility in recent months and that were documented by the Inspector General," said Pamela Smith, chief of the U.S. Park Police, in reference to the management advisory. "Prior to the IG completing its review, I took several actions to correct clear deficiencies and I am taking additional steps to remedy remaining concerns."
She added: "I will do everything I can to ensure that the facilities and equipment that support our officers match their very high level of skill and dedication – they, and the people we serve, deserve no less."
The Park Police, in addition to other federal law enforcement agencies, also came under scrutiny after the protests for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in police custody in Minneapolis in summer 2020 and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Interior Department, which houses the Park Police, declined to comment on the letter. The office for Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Government Operations panel, did not immediately respond for comment on it
Update: This article has been updated with comment from the U.S. Park Police on Wednesday afternoon.