Sherwood's Notebook: And Now, Security 'Envy' - NBC4 Washington
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Sherwood's Notebook: And Now, Security 'Envy'

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    Sherwood's Notebook: And Now, Security 'Envy'

    If you’re so important, well, so am I.

    My security detail is bigger than your detail. My security barrier is bigger … Oh, never mind. You get the point. The image of having “security” is epidemic in the nation’s capital.

    For way too much of official D.C., the bottom line is this: If you don’t flash personal security, then you are a nobody.

    The Notebook calls it “security envy.” It is the twin sister of “security theater,” which is a concept that showboating security at least makes people feel secure even if it doesn’t actually provide it.

    Now, security envy and theater is spreading.

    NBC4 investigative reporter Scott MacFarlane revealed this past week that the House sergeant-at-arms is seeking $2 million to upgrade security at the home state offices of House members.

    “Members of Congress have made an increasing number of requests to improve home-office security,” MacFarlane reported, citing Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving. The House official is seeking the additional money from the House Appropriations Committee. MacFarlane reported that Irving did not specify the nature of any threats against members.

    But the work of “securicrats” — another word we’ve used for some time — is expanding.

    Surely you have noticed the proliferation around town of what we call “two-car” motorcades. Invariably the vehicles are whomping, jet-black SUVs. There are two grim-faced men — almost always men — in the lead car, ready to blast a siren or turn on threatening blue police lights in the grille and other panels of the vehicle.

    You also can notice them because they’ve all gone to the same protective driving school that teaches them to inch over one lane into another to discourage anyone from driving alongside. And, of course, they park illegally outside of restaurants, at crosswalks and other places.

    We almost forgot. Who’s in the follow car? Basically anybody. It could be a federal department head, an elected official, top staff, a congressional leader, or even top security officials themselves. That’s a lot of people, folks.

    How many are there? Ask that question and you get the classic answer: “We don’t talk about our security measures.”

    Being just a regular citizen, we can’t help but wonder just how effective all this might really be. The hyper-SUV showboating seems to call attention to the very potential target supposedly needing protection. Each protectee must decide if it’s security necessity or maybe official Washington’s inflated view of itself.

    A couple of caveats are necessary. The security impulse is powerful. Some officials are told by agencies that they must have security details and those officials simply go along. It’s not always personal egos involved but agencies.

    Of course, security is a real concern. It would be naive to think no one needs security or that it’s all inflated egos. Ever since 9/11, police and law enforcement officials have privately told us the same thing — that much of what passes as “security” to the public is there to make the public “feel” secure. In fact, the security presence is there as much to respond quickly to attacks, not so much to prevent them.

    But security squads bullying their way around town don’t have to be part of that equation.

    ■ Marion Barry redux. President Donald Trump gave a remarkable speech last week to U.S. Coast Guard graduates in Connecticut. “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Trump declared of himself. Whether true or not, it reminded us of an occasion involving the late Mayor Marion Barry many years ago:

    At a news conference, Barry was discussing his successes and troubles. In his defense, he said for all his years of public service that he had suffered “a thousand wounds.” Without missing a beat, then-D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis remarked in a quiet aside, “Yes, all self-inflicted.”

    ■ Going nowhere. Columbia Heights at the intersection of 14th and Irving streets NW is both a success and a failure.

    The shops, apartments and retail at the Metro stop have brought new life to a formerly run-down area.

    But traffic at this intersection is ridiculously stupid. One unloading truck or bus heading eastward at 14th clogs one lane. If another vehicle is turning left, the other lane is clogged and traffic backs up. People rushing to the Metro or emerging from it crowd the sidewalks and cross streets sometimes in spite of the traffic signals.

    Now the D.C. Department of Transportation is going to try fixing part of the pedestrian problem.

    Starting next month, it plans to redo the intersection to allow a moment when all lights are red at the same time. Pedestrians will be able to cross every direction, including diagonally. It’s similar to a crosswalk design at 7th and H streets NW.

    The idea is that pedestrians get a real chance to cross, helping traffic flow more smoothly. There will be new no-left-turn restrictions, too, which will move traffic along.

    The whole operation — part of the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024 — should be up in running by mid-to-late June. Traffic control officers, and hopefully police, will be out there helping everyone figure out the new configuration.

    Good luck, all.

    Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.