Park Police Chief Placed On Leave After Remarks
Moran, Labor Union Criticize Action
By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 6, 2003; Page B01

U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa C. Chambers was placed on leave yesterday, the National Park Service announced, just days after she was chastised for saying publicly that her department was shorthanded.

A statement released by the Park Service did not say how long Chambers would remain on leave, or whether she would be paid during that time. Assistant Chief Benjamin J. Holmes Jr. will become acting chief, the statement said.

The statement did not give a reason for the action. But the announcement came after a meeting between Chambers and her superior in the Park Service, who said this week that her comments to reporters broke federal rules.

Chambers was not available for comment yesterday, a spokesman said.

The decision to place her on leave was criticized by the Park Police labor union. Jeff Capps, who heads the union, said that Chambers described her situation in a meeting with him yesterday evening. Chambers said that she was being investigated for insubordination and for violating other, unspecified federal rules, Capps said.

Capps said Chambers told him she would be paid while on leave. But her badge and gun were taken away and her police powers were revoked, he said. Capps said that during Chambers's meeting with Park Service officials yesterday, three people she described as security personnel were in the room.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who sits on the appropriations subcommittee that approves funds for the Park Service, also took issue with the disciplinary action.

"I think it sends exactly the wrong message," Moran said yesterday. "I think that's part of their purpose, to send a message to managers that 'you keep your mouth shut and your thoughts to yourself.' "

Chambers, 46, was appointed in February 2002, becoming the Park Police's first woman chief in its 200-plus-year history. She had been police chief in Durham, N.C., for four years; before that, she was a high-ranking official in the Prince George's County department.

In interviews with The Washington Post and local TV and radio stations, she had discussed a requirement that Park Police place four officers at each of three sites: the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

Previously, one or two officers were assigned to the Washington Monument and one officer was assigned to each memorial. The new requirements, plus an order to place one officer at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, were put in place by the Interior Department after a study by the U.S. Secret Service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, Park Police said.

Chambers had said that she did not have enough officers to meet the new requirements and that she had to cut back patrols in the area's other parks and parkways.

As a result, she had said in interviews, accidents increased on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and homeless people and drug dealers were taking over city parks.

"It's fair to say where it's green, it belongs to us in Washington, D.C.," Chambers said in a Post article published Tuesday. "Well, there's not enough of us to go around to protect those green spaces anymore."

In the Post story, Chambers also said that her department had a $12 million shortfall this year and that an additional $8 million was needed for next year.

On Wednesday, Chambers was told to stop talking to the media temporarily by Don Murphy, the Park Service's deputy director.

Murphy said Wednesday that Chambers's comments violated two federal rules. One rule bars an official in her position from "lobbying," he said, and another rule prohibits an official from discussing budget proposals before they are finalized.

On Wednesday, Murphy was asked whether Chambers had been suspended, fired or otherwise disciplined. He said that officials were "not even contemplating that."

Attempts to reach Murphy through a Park Service spokesman were unsuccessful yesterday.

The Park Service statement announcing the action involving Chambers also detailed recent increases in funding for the Park Police.

2003 The Washington Post Company