National Icons Vulnerable to Attack Due to Lax Security, New Report Says

Chronic understaffing at the U.S. Park Police and a lack of coordination and training have left national icons like the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty vulnerable, according to a government report on the Park Police released Monday.

The 40-page assessment by the Interior Department's inspector general accuses the Park Police of an "overall lack of commitment to its icon security responsibilities."

"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.

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, with decisions made at the local level. 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.

"The truth is that we are not covering the posts ... it's all smoke and mirrors," one midlevel manager at the Statue of Liberty is quoted as saying.

Among specific lapses cited in the report, 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.

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.

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.