Recently I had cause to visit our nation’s capital and attend a semi-formal function that was held in the Ronald Reagan building. Not realizing that it was a federally owned and operated building (okay, so it was a stupid moment) I put my usual unarmed “reduced” load into my pants and sport coat: wallet, keys, coin, lighter, small “gentleman’s” pocket knife, BLACKHAWK! BHB40 knife, SureFire 6P LED flashlight, Mil-Tac TDP pen and my cell phone. Because of the type of event that it was I also put a digial camera in my pocket. Note that I had only one fair size folding knife and no gun. In my mind I was already under-armed. When I arrived at the Reagan building, however, I found myself facing the metal detectors and my mind immediately jumped to the BHB40 knife in my pocket. I KNEW it wasn’t going through those detectors.
My first attempt to meet the security requirements was to inquire if any lockboxes or other secure storage was provided. I was given a very disgruntled, “No.” I mean, the guy looked really unhappy that I’d even asked. It was clear he felt I was ridiculous for even asking.
So, okay, I thought. But I need to go into the building, I don’t want to cause a scene and I really don’t want to throw the knife away. I’ve always supported anyone who works in a uniform, so perhaps I can give it to the guy? Maybe he’d even consider just holding onto it for me as a “brother in arms”? I asked and was again answered, “No.” Not a “sir” on that. Not a polite demeanor; look on the face; nothing. Just NO. Okay… maybe this guy needs someone to be nice to him and a new knife. So I asked him if I could give it to him as a gift? Same NO I got before.
So my only option, if I want to come into the building is to throw the knife away? I asked. This time I didn’t get a YES, but I got a head nod and he pointed at the nearest trash can which was INSIDE the security perimeter. “Trash can’s right over there,” he says.
So I step over and, with much regrest, drop the knife in the can. My first thought was that I could probably retrieve it on my way out. The can was small – and if it was busy they’d have a larger can there – and the plastic liner was clean. There was NO trash in it. Hmm…
As I turned to step back out of the perimeter and into the line to go through the metal detector I realized that NONE of the three guards there was even looking at or paying attention to me. I was sure that I no longer existed in their world. To test my theory I walked the long way around the metal detector which took me farther inside the perimeter and then back out toward the exit to get in line. When the guard who had given me the oh-so-not-police “No”s saw me he looked startled. Hadn’t he already dealt with me?
As I emptied my pockets into the tray to go through the x-ray machine I completely forgot about the SureFire flashlight that was in my pants pocket. I emptied out keys, small “gentleman’s” pocket knife, lighter, challenge coin, pen, camera, phone. The female guard working the machine took a close look at the small pocket knife (blade’s about 1.5″ long or smaller), going so far as to open it and test the lock. She asked one of her compatriots if it was okay and he said yes in a way that made it obvious he was annoyed with her for asking. She dropped it back in the tray. As I stepped through, because of the flashlight, the beeper beeped. The guy working the detector asked me to step back, take off my jacket, hand it through and then walk through again. I complied.
I stepped back and handed him my jacket through. It didn’t beep. He gestured me to come through and it beeped. He looked me up and down, handed me my jakcet and told me to have a nice day! I was so startled that I hesitated for half a moment before refilling my pockets and taking my jacket from him. I was probably several hundred feet away before I remember the flashlight and realized what had set off the metal detector. My very next thought was, “If I had kept my mouth shut about that knife it would still be in my pocket instead of the trash.”
Of course this incident was on my mind the entire ride home. How could anyone call that building “secure” with such security at hand and working?
What “secure” facility doesn’t have any options for locking up the inevitable weapons that will come in the door? EVERY cop who comes to that building for anything will have a gun on. MANY retired cops who come to that building will have a gun on. LEOSA won’t let them carry inside that building. Wouldn’t it just be prudent to have a specific entrance to direct them to? Or a bank of lockboxes they can use to secure their weapons? Sure, I know it’s not free. I know that putting lockboxes in all of the federal buildings will cost a few dollars… but what does it cost us tax payers to have completely incompetent security at those doors? Three of them at each door I saw while I was there.
So, moving past that, I enjoyed the event and was heading out at about 5:30 that afternoon, dreading the ride and drive home in rush hour traffic going out of DC. Since I was in a different part of the building then where I had entered I asked the door guard what was the quickest way to the subway station. He looked at me with a confused look on his face. I asked the question again being sure to speak clearly and slowly (sometimes I talk fast and my words blur together). He again looked at me with a funny look on his face. So I look at his partner to see if he can help me and he’s smiling! At that point I started to get a bit peeved. I mean, what was so funny about me asking what the fastest route to the subway was? Did I look that stupid? Was there something on my tie?
The guard saw my demeanor change and he quickly said, “Sir, that officer doesn’t speak English.”
Huh? A man wearing a uniform and carrying a gun guarding the door of a federal buildling can’t even speak English? What was worse, and I freely admit that it may be a prejudicial feeling, a man who couldn’t even speak English was there to make sure that I didn’t bring weapons in? There he was wearing a gun and I – an honorably discharged vet and retired cop – can’t? I was shocked.
Are you serious? I asked the man. “Yes,” he replied straight faced.
So, folks, I felt compelled to write this out and ask one simple question: How secure is our building security? At one door we have three guards who first let a man WHO HAS TOLD THEM HE HAS A KNIFE walk AROUND the security check point and then dismiss him from thought. When he comes back and goes through AND SETS OFF the metal detector they check him no further and let him enter the building A SECOND TIME. At a different door we have a man wearing a uniform and carrying a gun WHO HASN’T BEEN IN THE COUNTRY LONG ENOUGH TO LEARN THE LANGUAGE.
What the hell are we collectively thinking?
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