Agency’s Night Shift Keeps Pentagon Safe
By Paul Taylor
Pentagon Force Protection Agency
WASHINGTON, May. 2, 2011 On the evening of March 4, 2010, an armed gunman approached the Pentagon’s metro entrance and opened fire.
Pentagon Police Department Officers Johnnie Boynes, Arthur Garrelts and Jason Cummiskey begin a night shift with the retiring of the colors from the Pentagon’s riverside flag poles. DOD photo by Paul Taylor
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Everybody knew what they needed to do, and they just did it,” said Officer Christie Bolton of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency’s 4th Platoon.
Bolton had just come on duty for her 12-hour overnight watch, and was in the process of turning over with the off-going shift.
“Even though we don’t necessarily work with these guys on an everyday basis, we were able to work together easily to respond to the incident,” she said.
Seven months later, shots rang out again. This time they came from the Pentagon’s south side. The platoon on duty –- the overnight shift, Bolton’s 4th Platoon -- set about the business of securing the 280-acre reservation, making sure there were no injuries, and searching for the source of the shots.
If anyone believes the night shift at the Pentagon is a quiet time, Bolton said, recent history demonstrates otherwise. Capt. John Kinnard, her platoon commander, agreed, but he noted that while the day and the night shifts have some similarities, there also are significant differences.
“We’re still doing security of the Pentagon and [Defense Department] facilities,” Kinnard said. “We’re still responsible for the protection of the people, and this place is still as much a terrorist target in the middle of the night as it is at mid-day.
“I’ve worked both day shift and night shift,” he continued. “During the day, this place attracts people in tinfoil helmets. We have a few of those, but not as many as the day shift. We don’t have protests at night like they do on days. We still stop people from suspicious activities like day shift -– we just don’t have the volume they do.”
Kinnard said another telling difference can be found in the number of police reports each shift completes.
“There might be 26 to 30 reports written a day in the agency for things like stolen property, traffic accidents, medical problems, directed patrols [and] security checks,” he said. “Maybe two of them are generated by the night shift.”
But what the night shift lacks in volume, he said, it makes up for on the court docket.
“A majority of the cases on the court docket stem from midnight reports,” he said. “Because of the hour of the day, alcohol is a factor in most of the people we encounter, so my guys are encountering the arrestable offenses -- things like disorderly conduct, some trespassing charges, [drunk driving] and drunk in public. On day shift, their court docket looks like protestors or a couple of [disorderly conduct cases]. They also do a lot more involuntary mental committals for 72-hour evaluations.”
While he’s proud of his team’s work, Kinnard said, the Pentagon Police Department is only part of the overnight presence that makes it possible for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency to accomplish its mission. The nerve center that aligns and focuses the efforts of the agency’s overnight team is the Integrated Emergency Operations Center, which assistant supervisor Patrick Meister oversees on the night shift.
“We have cameras throughout the Pentagon, so any time an event happens on the reservation, I can record it for evidence, or monitor it for officer safety, or ask for backup,” he said. The team also monitors emergency management communications for the Washington area and can use that system to reach out to the 200 emergency response agencies in the region.
“We also monitor [Federal Aviation Administration] communications so we can listen to aircraft that are coming our way,” he added. “These are all capabilities we didn’t have on 9/11.”
The watch team also includes a section from the Pentagon Force Protection Agency’s chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive directorate. On most nights, Dexter Hudson serves as that section’s shift operations supervisor.
“Our mission … is to monitor the various sensors,” Hudson said. “We have chemical, biological, and radiological sensors internally and externally on the reservation. If they go off, they’ll light up on our monitors here, and we have protocols for notifying leadership at higher levels.”
Monitoring the vast array of physical alarms in Defense Department-leased facilities throughout the national capital region is another function the center’s staff performs.
“It gets really busy sometimes with the alarms,” said operations specialist Janira Fernandez. “If somebody doesn’t secure their spaces, we have to send someone out there to make sure the space is secure, and we have to call in a security manager to secure the space.”
Also on duty through most of the night is a special agent from the threat investigation section of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency’s investigation and threat directorate.
“We deal with all the threats that come into the Pentagon and delegated buildings, whether it’s by email, phone calls or walk-ups,” said Special Agent Neil Raftery. “It’s important to look into them all, but a lot of the people that we deal with have mental health problems. We try to get them help, by either working with Arlington County to get them committed if they fit the criteria, or if charges are appropriate, we do that as well.”
Although the building’s population at night drops to 1,000 to 1,300 people, the facility itself and the people within remain tempting targets, officials said, so the overwhelming majority of the protection agency’s overnight presence overnight comes from either Of the Pentagon Police Department’s 4th and 2nd Platoons.
With stationary posts, roving patrols, traffic enforcement and access control points, officers are spread across the Pentagon reservation and leased facilities. A group of seven sergeants ensures they have everything they need and oversees their training and professional development. Kinnard commands the team, assisted by three lieutenants.
The word “vigilance” comes up repeatedly when 4th Platoon officers talk about their work. Officer Troy Massey provides perimeter security at the Pentagon’s remote delivery facility.
“I’m watching the gate and doing roving patrols,” he said, “because if someone jumped over that fence, they might be able to get to the Pentagon. It’s really just being vigilant.”
Bolton said vigilance helps her guard against complacency.
“I just constantly think of things that can happen and how I would react,” she said. “I can say that in the past two and a half years that I’ve been on night shift, not one arrest or situation that I have come across has been the same [as another]. So I’m constantly running scenarios through my mind.”
As it is with the day shift, training is important. However, the reduced population at night makes it possible to train in a more active way.
“Exercise, exercise, exercise!” squawked the police radio of Sgt. Eric Glover, a shift supervisor with the platoon, at about 11:30 p.m. March 22. “Male victim complaining of chest pains in the vicinity of Corridor 3.”
Within moments, Officer Jason Bookstaber rushed from Corridor 8 to the side of the victim lying on the floor between the escalators in Apex 3-4. As he began assessing the victim’s condition and communicating with the operations center, three more officers arrived and began to assist.
As they tended to the needs of the patient, Glover’s radio squawked again. “Exercise, exercise, exercise! Delta Surge! All units respond to Delta Surge access control points and secure the reservation.”
Outside, police cruisers across the reservation fired up their flashing blue lightbars and raced to their surge points to stop traffic from entering or leaving the reservation.
Sgt. Richard Thomas, the outdoor shift supervisor, drove from post to post, checking on the officers at each access control point. At the third one, he found Bookstaber manning the post.
“It’s a rush!” Bookstaber said. “Running from halfway across the building from Corridor 8 to Corridor 3 for a medical emergency, then back out to my car in center court and out to the 110 South –- that’s a lot of running around.
“It’s definitely good practice, and an essential skill, to quickly locate a victim anywhere in the building and then quickly jump to another incident,” he continued. “In the event of a possible mass casualty-type event, you’re not going to be in one place for very long.”
Glover, who oversaw the exercise, said training scenarios like this are essential.
“We don’t want people to become complacent or in a routine,” he said. “Plus, you have to be flexible. These guys have to be able to do everything, because, for instance, they have to be paramedics until the paramedics get here. They wear a lot of hats, and it’s my job to make sure they have their hats with them.”
Officer Toni Kennedy said another side effect of the night watch is the sense of camaraderie in the platoon.
“We work well together, and we know each other real well,” she said. “On days, there are more people and platoons on duty. But on nights, we get to chat more and interact with each other. You see the relationships build real fast. It definitely makes a difference.”
Night shift officers also have the occasional opportunity simply to appreciate the historic significance of the building they protect.
For Field Training Officer Travis Gilmer, a piece of history with a direct family connection is hanging on the wall of the Pentagon’s Navy corridor: a portrait of distant relative Thomas Walker Gilmer, the 15th secretary of the Navy.
“It’s pretty neat,” he said. “That, and knowing there’s history being made in this building even as we speak -- seeing the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs coming and going, knowing that they’re making history and I’m part of that. Just being here is pretty cool.”
“To me, this is the Department of Defense -- this is it,” he said. “When you’re overseas and you get your orders, this is where you’re getting them from. So was it a big deal for me to come back and work here and to be a sergeant in the police department? Yeah, that’s a big deal. It’s great, and I love my job.”