U.S. Capitol Police use a threat assessment process to determine whether officers travel with members of Congress to provide extra security. Photo via Flickr (rafikk).
Several federal elected leaders have vowed to better arm themselves as they travel among their constituents, after a gunman critically wounded an Arizona congresswoman at a community event.
Jared Loughner's decision to open fire at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' community event, killing six and wounding 14 others, has brought security into sharper focus for national politicians wanting personal protection, as well as a connection to their constituency.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, a 42-year officer, has said he doesn't advise national politicians to arm themselves while in their districts, however several elected leaders believe they need more security.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a longtime gun owner, told the Washington Post that he'll bring his Glock 23 more often when heading into the country. Rep. Health Shuler (D-N.C.) told Politico he would carry his handgun more often. And Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the Associated Press he would renew a concealed carry permit that had lapsed.
Most elected members of Congress aren't provided a security detail in their home districts. The Secret Service provides security for top leaders such as the President, Vice President, Senate Majority Leader, Speaker of the House and others.
U.S. Capitol Police provide security in D.C., and will usually send an officer on a trip with a member of Congress facing a direct threat.
"We do in some instances travel with some members of congress as part of our mission which we have the authority to do," U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider tells POLICE Magazine. "We also have a threat assessment process which drives our decision making process when it comes to members of Congress."
Members of Congress can also ask their local law enforcement agency for a two-officer detail, if they believe a threat exists, retired NYPD Sgt. John Negus tells POLICE Magazine.
However, local law enforcement often suffers from a manpower crunch that can limit security provided by patrol officers.
"Most police department don't have capacity to do that," Negus said. "In certain areas, if you only have four guys on patrol are you going to take them off patrol to babysit some politician? If any official feels there's a need, they should approach the police department and they'll do what they can."
Negus once oversaw the NYPD's intelligence unit that provides security for top-level and second-in-command diplomats from 93 countries with business at the United Nations. He's now an assistant executive director with Executive Protection Institute, which trains law enforcement officers, military personnel and private security.
Prior to her Safeway event on Saturday, Rep. Giffords had spoken publicly about violent threats made against her and vandalism to her office. She told MSNBC that "we can't stand for this," after vandals smashed her Tucson office window following her support of President Obama's healthcare bill.
Federal lawmakers receive a steady stream of harrassing phone calls and e-mails and often don't contact local law enforcement for event security.
The Pima County (Ariz.) Sheriff's Office was not even aware of her Jan. 8 Congress on Your Corner event, Dep. Erin Gibson tells POLICE Magazine. Unless members alert the agency, a local sheriff or police chief may not even know the official is in town.
"We did not have any contact with her," Gibson said. "We didn't receive a request for security, nor were we aware of any threats against her."