U.S. Capitol Police responded to Thursday's chaotic incident on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. Capitol Police officers are carrying old radio equipment, some of which doesn’t work in some parts of Capitol Hill.
An 8-year-long project to modernize the equipment has been slowed by cost overruns and delays.
Despite new concerns the radios didn’t function properly during a fatal police chase and shooting Thursday, Congressional leaders and Capitol Police management declined multiple requests to explain why new radios have yet to be deployed.
Multiple Capitol Police officers said they are still carrying “12- to 13-year-old” radios on their belts, despite “dead spots” in U.S. House garages, in which those radios are inoperable. Members of the Capitol Police union, speaking with the News4 I-Team, said the older model radios might’ve slowed their response and performance during this week’s fatal incident outside the Hart Senate Office Building.
In 2005, U.S. Capitol Police began work on a sweeping project to replace the radio system, dubbed the “radio modernization” program. The initial estimated cost was reported to be $35 million. During a 2011 Congressional hearing, the agency said it expected to deploy the new radio system by spring 2012, according to documents provided by the office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who previously oversaw Capitol Police operations for the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.
Congressional spending documents obtained by the News4 I-Team show the price tag has dramatically risen, with $107 million appropriated for the “radio modernization” project as of 2013, and the work has yet to be completed. Police union members say they don’t expect to receive new radio devices until November at the earliest.
Staffers for the U.S. House Administration Committee declined multiple requests for comment on the delay.
Shennell Antrobus, a spokesman for U.S. Capitol Police, also declined comment, citing the ongoing government shutdown. “We respectfully request that you postpone your inquiry until a time when the USCP is in a position to respond to your questions regarding this matter,” Antrobus told the News4 I-Team in an email.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said the older-model radio equipment jeopardizes the Capitol Police’s ability to communicate with neighboring police forces in an emergency, including Library of Congress and Metropolitan Police. “You could perhaps understand it before 9/11,” Norton said. “But a dozen years after 9/11 there's no excuse for it.”