Threats increasing on Capitol Hill

Terrance W. Gainer, United States Senate Sergeant at Arms

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The weekend shooting in Arizona critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed one of her aides. Also killed were a federal judge and four other people.

Now, we’re getting word that lawmakers are concerned about increased threats.

Senate Sergeant at Arms, Terrance Gainer, told Federal News Radio, “we probably in the Senate have about five of these threats going at any one time. Last year there were 49 threats, the year before there were 29. This is just on the Senate side. And there’s been an arrest in probably about 25 percent of those cases, and either prosecution or some other type of adjudication in the cases.”

Procedures to Be Reviewed

As a result of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., said Gainer, “there will be a renewed examination of how the members conduct their business in the states,” with emphasis on including security in planning events.

Gainer said members of Congress need to balance safety concerns against wanting to be with the public and needing freedom of movement. Constant security, said Gainer is “a pretty uncomfortable thing for the members because you have someone in your car, in your home, in your face pretty much 24/7, and that’s unusual for people. So it’s a continued little battle between those we protect and the officers who do that.”

If YOU Feel Threatened

Everyone has a part to play, said Gainer.

All federal employees or city, state, or the citizens in general, if you see something suspicious, and I know we almost over use that phrase, but if you run into individuals and circumstances where you don’t feel right, you’ve got to pick the phone up or say something to someone because individuals like this offender down in Arizona, they don’t operate in a vacuum. Now that we see people talking about this kid, they’ll say “Gee, something wasn’t right. Something wasn’t right.” Well when your gut tells you something’s not right, you’ve got to do something about it.

Technology Increases the Threat Base

Gainer noted where those threats are found is increasing as well. It wasn’t so long ago, said Gainer, “you only had a couple of ways: in person, by telephone, or by letter. Now with emailing and the other social networks, it’s a lot easier for people to rant and rave. And I would agree with the conversation and definitely the remarks of Sheriff (Clarence) Dupnik in Arizona that people seem to be louder than they should be and not thinking before they speak.”

Taking It Personally

As the investigation continues, Gainer said the shooting is “very frustrating for the law enforcement community all over the United States when anybody is killed. You know, what we do is law enforcement officers are in the business to prevent these types of tragedies, so when they happen, we all go back and say ‘what could we have done differently? How did I…How did I fail the people I was supposed to protect?’ So it is personal, and those men and women on the Capitol Police or the officers out in the local area in Arizona, they take this very personally.”

The U.S. Capitol Police force is advising members of the House and their aides to “take reasonable and prudent precautions” about their own security in the wake of the shooting in Arizona.

While Capitol Police and the Senate and House Sergeants at Arms are looking at security arrangements for members and their staffs, Gainer says that doesn’t necessarily mean that all 535 lawmakers will have body guards.

Take the poll! Do you feel safe working at your federal building?

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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