State House officials have decided to strip roughly 16 uniformed officers – who also act as the Pennsylvania House chamber’s sergeants-at-arms – of their firearms after discovering that one had been carried a gun for years despite a criminal history, according to an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
That officer was fired in early May, and the three who supervised him resigned shortly afterward.
The incident has raised the question of whether the House’s security staff had sufficient policies in place for screening and background checks, along with whether they should have been armed in the first place, the article says.
Security officers for the Senate do not carry weapons, and the Capitol complex is already protected by the Capitol Police, which the article calls “an accredited force whose officers receive extensive training in firearms, emergency management, hazardous materials, and riot control.”
The House security officers were armed in January 2006 – a move which was controversial because it was adopted after “a hugely unpopular legislative pay raise,” and “it was disparaged as evidence that lawmakers were frightened of the public outrage over the pay raise,” the article says.
Court records show that the officer in question had pleaded guilty to a variety of misdemeanors throughout his past, which did not technically disqualify him from the job, the article reports.
The former director of security for the legislative officers, Phil Frederick, called the guard “an exemplary employee.” He said he was aware of the officer’s charges, and he also said that starting in 2006, all uniformed House officers underwent fingerprint and FBI background checks. Before that, guards underwent a state criminal background check, psychological testing, drug testing and a physical examination, the article says.
There were no periodic follow-up checks, but in 2009, a policy was put in place that the officers must report any run-ins with the law, Frederick says.