Congress

Transparency advocates call on Capitol Police to improve public records policies

Group says it has tried, without success, to obtain documents considered public

A letter sent last week to Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa calls for the department to publish its guidelines and procedures on public documents. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Capitol Police, a department of more than 2,000 employees with a budget topping $450 million, is facing new calls for increased transparency.

In a letter sent last week to Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa,  progressive advocacy group Demand Progress called for the department to publish its guidelines and procedures on what it considers public documents that the public and news media have access to.

The group wrote that it has attempted to obtain public records from Capitol Police’s reports processing section and its public information office without success.

The Capitol Police has said it is exempt from having to release to another entity any information “that relates to actions taken … in response to an emergency situation, or to any other counterterrorism and security preparedness measures” unless it determines that releasing the information will not “jeopardize the security and safety” of the Capitol complex.

That means other federal agencies, the public and the press cannot submit Freedom of Information Act requests to the Capitol Police.

Nothing in the law prevents members of Congress or committees from obtaining information from the Capitol Police regarding operations and activities that affect the House or Senate.

The Capitol Police is charged with protecting Congress, including lawmakers, employees, visitors and all the facilities on the Capitol campus so lawmakers can conduct their work in a safe and open environment. 

Demand Progress said in the letter it was given the runaround when trying to obtain documents recognized as public. The reports processing section referred it to the general counsel and public information officer, both of whom were unresponsive, according to the group.

“We believe there should be clear and consistent guidelines dictating which documents are designated ‘public documents’ and how they may be accessed,” wrote Amelia Strauss, a policy associate at Demand Progress.

The letter was also directed to Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki as well as the top lawmakers on House and Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittees, the House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration panel, which oversee the Capitol Police.

“Managing public requests for information is a common practice in police departments around the U.S., and a standard we are sure you could meet,” the letter reads.

The group is calling on the Capitol Police to “adhere to basic norms around transparency and accountability.”

In January, the Capitol Police began publishing its weekly arrest summaries online each Wednesday, data that was previously distributed via email to the media. The summaries include the Capitol File Number, or CFN; crime classification with any additional charges; offense date and time; and crime summary.

The letter from Demand Progress was issued before the Capitol Police drew national attention Friday after accounts emerged of officers physically shoving reporters away from senators heading to vote the day before, even when lawmakers were willingly engaging with the media.

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