FEBRUARY 05, 2008
Nearly seven years after terrorists attacked the United States, the country’s precious national monuments remain extremely vulnerable because the federal law enforcement agency in charge of protecting them is disorganized, ill-equipped and downright negligent.
As the nation’s oldest uniformed federal law enforcement agency, the 592-member U.S. Park Police is in charge of protecting designated areas within the National Park Service, mainly the metropolitan areas of Washington D.C., New York City and San Francisco. Among its duties is to guard national treasures and symbols of democracy such as the Washington Monument, Statue of Liberty and Lincoln Memorial.
Instead, officers on duty routinely sleep in their patrol cars, focus their attention on filling out crossword puzzles and reading the newspaper or chat endlessly on their cellular phones, leaving the landmarks vulnerable to sabotage.
This ongoing problem has finally been exposed in a scathing 40-page report published this week by the Interior Department’s Inspector General. The document blasts the Park Police for an “overall lack of commitment to its icon security responsibilities” and miserably failing to “adequately perform” its mission.
Information for the report was gathered by investigators who conducted more than 100 interviews and intense surveillance of the various sites. On one occasion Park Police was absent when protestors dressed as superheroes easily climbed onto the statue’s lap at the Lincoln Memorial and hung a banner.
In another security breach, inspectors found that a grate blocking access to the stairs under the Washington Monument was open and unattended for nearly half an hour. In yet another example of the department’s negligence, a visitor left a suitcase against the monument’s wall for more than five minutes and no one even noticed.
The lengthy report also includes shameful photos of officers literally caught sleeping on the job, engaged in telephone conversations and reading the newspaper during shifts when they were supposedly guarding the monuments.
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