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Police Agencies Trip Over Each Other in D.C. Does It Make Sense?

The National Zoological Park Police in Washington, D.C., is, a 123-year-old law-enforcement agency with a fully armed police department, complete with a fleet of squad cars, an armory and a jail cell. The force's Sgt. Ron Gaskins is a sworn peace officer with the full arrest and use-of-force powers of most municipal police officers. He is one of thousands of police officers in the capital assigned to as many as three dozen police departments that protect constituents of all stripes, from cabinet secretaries to lawmakers to justices, the Wall Street Journal reports. Law-enforcement agencies have blossomed alongside the growth of government, with many agencies, from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to the National Zoo, embracing their police squads as sources of pride, prestige and protection.

“We’re knee-deep in police,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. “Only here in the capital of the free world do you find local police and federal police tripping over each other.” The zoo is a part of the Smithsonian Institution, which is a federal trust instrumentality created by Congress but not a part of the legislative branch. The Federal Reserve Board is a creation of Congress that is independent. The 2001 Patriot Act gave the Fed power to create its own police, which also patrols the 12 regional banks of the Fed. The FBI operates the FBI Police as a separate department. The Secret Service runs a uniformed Secret Service Police.

In 1791, President George Washington created Park Watchmen, now the U.S. Park Police. In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln formed the Metropolitan Police Department to keep order as the Civil War began. “When I first came, it was confusing,” said Charles Ramsey, D.C. police chief from 1998 to 2006. “It seemed like each agency wanted to have their own separate department, which doesn’t really make sense to me.”


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