Security at U.S. monuments slammed

WASHINGTON -- Inadequate security has left national icons such as the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty vulnerable, according to a government report on the U.S. Park Police released Monday.

The Interior Department's inspector general accuses the Park Police of an "overall lack of commitment to its icon security responsibilities," citing chronic understaffing along with a lack of coordination and training.

"We found that despite having increased security and law enforcement responsibilities since the events of September, 11, 2001, USPP's staffing levels are lower now than they were 6 years ago," the report states.

For example, when two protesters dressed as superheroes climbed onto the statue's lap at the Lincoln Memorial and hung a banner in August, Park Police were absent from their post and private guards did nothing to stop them, the inspector general's office said.

David Barna, a spokesman for the National Park Service, which includes the Park Police, said the service takes the report seriously. But he said some of the claims are untrue.

"A lot of it is based on comments that can't necessarily be substantiated," he said. "So we have to separate the fact from some of the fiction that it's in there."

As an example he cited an e-mail from an officer quoted in the report, claiming that Chief Dwight E. Pettiford had not visited the New York office for four years despite morale problems. In fact, Pettiford has been to New York twice in a year and a half, Barna said.

The Interior Department has 90 days to respond to the inspector general's report in writing.

According to the report, the Park Police have no comprehensive program for guarding national landmarks. There frequently are not enough people to fill all the posts, and sometimes posts are assigned to officers who are on leave, the report says.

Investigators found that a grate blocking access to stairs under the Washington Monument was left open and unattended for about 20 minutes. In another case, a visitor left a suitcase against the monument's wall for five minutes, and nobody appeared to notice.

The report also includes a photograph an officer who appears to be sleeping in what the report says is a patrol vehicle at the Jefferson Memorial.

The Park Police often rely on private security companies, but there is little coordination between the private guards and the officers, the report said. Officers told the investigators that many of the guards don't speak English.

The report says many officers, particularly in the San Francisco field office, which patrols the Golden Gate Bridge area, have not met minimum firearm qualification standards because of a lack of ammunition.

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On the Net:

Inspector General, Department of the Interior: http://www.doioig.gov/

U.S. Park Police: http://www.nps.gov/uspp/


Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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