Secret Service Uniformed Division Turns 100

The man believed he owned the Pakistani embassy chancery building in Kalorama Heights, and on a recent morning paid a visit to assert his claim.

Officers from the Foreign Missions Division in US Secret Service uniforms rushed to the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue in northwest Washington, dubbed Embassy Row, and arrested the man, who they said had entered in the building with a phone, keys and a pen – but no identification or documents to support his claim.

“You’re on my property,” the 39-year-old told Technician Officer Stephen Wolford, who has been with the force for just over four years.

“It’s the Pakistan Embassy,” Wolford told the man, dressed in shorts and sandals and handcuffed on the lawn, surrounded by police and embassy officials.

Wolford is one of approximately 1,700 Secret Service uniformed police officers whose primary job is to protect the grounds of the White House, an 18-acre fortress where the president lives and works, and where the agency must move quickly to adapt to new threats. But officers are also fanning out across the city to respond to calls and help with security at about 500 foreign missions and similar properties in the district.

The uniformed division – not to be confused with the iconic costumed agents who protect presidents and dignitaries – turned a century on September 14. The anniversary comes as the Secret Service rebounds from a series of embarrassing security failures in the early to mid-2000s that engulfed both protective detail and the uniformed division.

In one incident in 2014, a knife-wielding intruder jumped the fence and managed to breach multiple levels of security and enter the East Room of the White House before being arrested. More recently, the agency was also thrust into the center of political controversy over allegations that then-President Trump tried to get his protective detail to take him to the Capitol on Jan. 6, when rioters invaded the building.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform concluded in 2015 that rank and file officers and agents had “lost confidence” in their leadership and described the Secret Service as an “agency in crisis.” The report criticized disciplinary procedures and what it said were dangerously low staffing levels.

New Breaches Revealed in Report Saying Secret Service ‘In Crisis’

The Government Accountability Office found similar issues in its own report published in December 2014 and recommended more training and improved security measures. In January of this year, the GAO said the agency had successfully implemented 13 of its 19 recommendations, including increasing the size of the uniformed force. Its goal is to have 1,805 uniformed officers by 2025.

The GAO said in its January update that construction of a new, taller fence around the White House, which began in 2019 and is designed to keep people from climbing over it and onto the grounds, is behind schedule. . The Secret Service attributed this to a variety of factors, including protests and the discovery of power lines.

Uniformed Division chief Alfonso M. Dyson Sr. said in an interview that no one had been able to scale the new fence and that he welcomed criticism from the agency he had worked with for 32 years. year. He said officials are making progress on the recommendations.

“When I see these reports, it just tells me that we need to take a look at what we’re doing to see if we need to tweak anything, or train better, or do some slightly different things,” Dyson said, who was appointed chief 31 January. “I think constructive criticism is a good thing.”

The president of the union representing uniformed Secret Service agents declined to discuss the reports, saying in an email that discussing security matters “would be a breach of our duty”.

As Dyson strolled the White House grounds and Pennsylvania Avenue one day last week, a few groups of tourists gathered, a group claiming Biden gave up on Latin America held a press conference and a supporter of Biden displayed a sign honoring the families of 9/11 victims. , 2001, terrorist attacks.

The nation’s capital and the White House in particular are popular targets for locals living around the corner, and others from around the world, to draw attention to their causes. Dyson described 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as “a kind of main street” similar, he said, to a “people’s avenue”.

Dyson said Secret Service agents have made more than 500 arrests across the city this year, many of whom have assisted DC police on calls unrelated to foreign missions, and seized dozens of weapons fires, including some near the White House. The chief said he doesn’t get much sleep at night, his mind “constantly racing” over threats and what might happen. “You just don’t know when something is going to happen,” he said. “I know something is going to happen one of these days. And again, that’s why we train and prepare.

The Uniformed Division began as the White House Police during the administration of President Warren G. Harding, joined the Secret Service in 1930, and adopted its current name in 1977. In many ways, those who serve there work are like any other policeman. .

Accompanied by a Washington Post reporter on a recent shift, Wolford condemned a car illegally parked in a diplomatic space outside the Polish Embassy and rushed to a report – later found to be false – of a woman cutting herself inside the Polish Embassy Azerbaijan.

But a few the calls are all the more concerning when they affect an address associated with the executive, such as when a construction worker reported Wolford one day last week after an unoccupied vehicle hit a fence near the residence of the vice-president at the Naval Observatory. The police, worried about an attack or a bomb, closed the streets, although they learned later that a motorist had parked and had simply forgotten to apply the parking brake of the vehicle. A bus full of migrants dispatched by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to the vice president’s residence also triggered a security alert.

Protecting foreign missions can also come with unique challenges. The war in Ukraine drew armed wannabe soldiers to the embassy who volunteered to fight. And additional officers had to be sent to the Russian Embassy for anti-war protests.

Construction will begin this summer to expand the White House fence

Even those mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II have required police attention around the British Embassy. Wolford noted the sad occasion, but also that there are people who don’t like the British monarchy. “So you have to be very vigilant because people are laying their flowers,” he said as he passed the embassy in his cruiser days before the funeral. “There might be some bad actors out there.”

And then there are the mental health calls.

Wolford has completed crisis intervention team training to deal with people in mental distress, and he said he recently helped deter a man from jumping off the Taft Bridge over Rock Creek, south of the National Zoo. He is one of a growing number of federal officers certified to help those in mental distress, which he says contributed to the way he treated the man claiming to be a landlord the Chancellery building of the Embassy of Pakistan.

An embassy staff member had reported to a Secret Service officer that the man had entered the building, claimed ownership and planned to change the locks, according to an arrest affidavit filed in court.

This officer took him outside, as Wolford and others sped to roll call. The man remained calm but insisted he was the rightful owner of the building, telling Wolford he had given money to someone online.

“I have proof that I bought this,” the man said. Referring to embassy staff, he added, “I have been in constant contact with them.”

Wolford had officials handle the address and a dispatcher radioed back that the building did indeed belong to Pakistan. Police said they even checked with an estate agent whose man told them he brokered the sale. The real estate agent told the police that the building was not for sale.

Authorities said the man was taken to hospital for treatment of a pre-existing medical condition. Police said he was charged with unlawful entry.

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