Today in the pages of my former employer, Hannah Hess does some good shoe leather reporting on the United States Capitol Police and incidents involving firearms being left in bathrooms.
It’s concerning, to say the least, that police officers are making mistakes that could yield fatal outcomes for innocents. (The U.S. Capitol is like a supermagnet for insane people, who roam the halls of the office buildings like zombies in The Walking Dead.)
What’s even more concerning about what Hess uncovered is that one of the incidents involved a child finding the weapon:
A 7- or 8-year-old child visiting the Capitol with his parents found the next loaded Glock lost by a dignitary protection officer, according to the source.
That’s really bad.
There are a few types of USCP officers that I know about: Uniformed, Dignitary Protection (DPD) — they protect Senate and House leadership — and plainclothes/undercover.
Of course, anyone who has been around the Capitol complex or has seen a beat cop in uniform knows that their belt rivals that of Batman: Radio, magazines with ammunition, handcuffs, Taser, Glock & holster, ASP baton.
Taking your pants off to take a shit is a huge ordeal. (Probably slightly less so than if you’re plainclothes, or DPD.) And, for the force’s female officers, going number one involves the cumbersome ordeal of dropping the trousers whereas male officers aren’t similarly burdened.
A corollary: As a staffer (and as a private citizen) I have been known to use the cellphone holster. It’s quite common on Capitol Hill for BlackBerry toters (though their prevalence is fading). Even the weight of a phone and holster often results in the wearer unclipping it and placing it elsewhere — whether it’s the floor or the toilet cover holder.
Suffice it to say, I never lost my BlackBerry or personal phone during my years on the Hill, but I did leave the bathroom a few times, only to run back a few minutes later to retrieve it.
Which is why I am empathetic to USCP officers who might make the same mistake. They say the pen (or BlackBerry) is mightier than the sword, yet a sword is not a Glock. So, suspending (or even firing) officers who make such a mistake, at least to me, is certainly justifiable.
In discussing the story (as it’s Friday, a slow news day) with the Federalist‘s Sean Davis, he encouraged me to think about it a bit deeper.
Sean’s contention is that three incidents is bonkers. I’m not so sure (even though nobody condones mistakes as potentially fatal as these) it is.
My concern is the transparency: We don’t know how often these incidents have occurred, since as Hess reports:
How often do officers leave their guns unattended around the Capitol complex? The answer is unknown because Capitol Police are not required to disclose such incidents.
To the best of my knowledge, there are about 1,400 sworn Capitol Police officers. Let’s hypothesize a bit.
Women generally represent 12% of police forces across the U.S. — but at the Capitol, based on my experience, it is probably closer to 20%.
And, while transparency is my main concern, let’s just assume that these three incidents are the only three we know about in 2015. To be clear, we’re measuring only the potential for these incidents since January 1, 2015.
In 2015, 120 days have elapsed. If you multiply that by 1,190 daily duty day bathroom visits, you get 142,800 estimated bathroom visits by USCP officers since the beginning of the year. (Note: I did not control for private bathrooms.)
If the three incidents — and we don’t know this — are the only ones, it represents .0021 percent of bathroom visits.
I think everybody would like the police to make zero mistakes, but that’s not reasonable. If officers make mistakes like this, they should (and they have) been suspended without pay. Or, they should be demoted or even fired — depending on the circumstances.
Until I get more information, I am inclined to disagree with Sean in that it’s “bonkers.”
But, until we have more transparency, we won’t know the extent of the problem. And, until then, I think we should reserve judgement and demand greater transparency.