Metro-East News

Not much ‘mental anguish’ – former Capitol Police chief weighs in on shooting of Hodgkinson

President Barack Obama, escorted by former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, arrives at the U.S. Capitol to meet with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington, in 2013.
President Barack Obama, escorted by former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, arrives at the U.S. Capitol to meet with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington, in 2013. MCT

The police officers who shot Belleville resident James Hodgkinson on Wednesday clearly had no choice but to open fire on him, according to Terrance Gainer, an Illinois native who formerly headed the U.S. Capitol Police.

“In this case, when your shooter has a rifle, there isn’t a lot of mental anguish about the amount of force you need to use,” Gainer said Friday.

Gainer served as director of Illinois State Police before becoming chief of the Capitol Police in Washington, D.C.

Hodgkinson died in the shootout Wednesday with Capitol Police officers at a practice session for the Republican congressional baseball team.

The U.S. Capitol Police, Gainer said, is made up of nearly 2,000 employees —sworn and civilian. The officers, selected from a national pool, complete months of training before beginning their service with the agency.

“Rolling into one of these incidents, your adrenaline is pumping but you hope — and we hope as leaders — that the men and women act as they’re trained,” Gainer said. “I think the members of the Capitol Police did just that.”

He added the officers assigned to protecting congressional leadership go through even more training — everything from tactical driving to additional shooting skills — before providing security to elected officials in the nation’s capital.

Gainer said he knows Crystal Griner and David Bathe, the U.S. Capitol Police officers shot in Wednesday’s attack at a Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.

He’s contacted them since the shooting.

“They are not your typical men and women who join the police department — they come from very diverse backgrounds, they are just darn good civil servants who, when they are not policing, are normal people with families ... just like everyone else,” he said.

When it comes to threats on Capitol Hill, Gainer said it’s a fuzzy issue. A person simply writing to a politician expressing hatred toward them for whatever reason doesn’t necessarily rise to a “threat” level. He noted that staff members are often familiar with people who frequently contact their offices, and those staffers have a good handle on when something is unusual.

If there is a threat, investigators look into the nature of the threat and conduct a background investigation before proceeding.

“After Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot we had a very concentrated effort to educate the staff and offices, that they have to share with the police … when they get threats,” he said.

Gainer said he instructed congressional staff and elected officials that if something seemed suspicious, they should report it and let officers determine the validity of the threat.

When it comes to Hodgkinson’s many contacts with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s office, Gainer said staff members probably didn’t have a reason to be concerned.

“Mere contacts is obviously not an issue,” he said. “He may have sent letters protesting the raising of taxes or trickle-down economics. Those, in and of themselves, would not be an issue.”

As for reactionary measures, he doesn’t agree with some politicians who have publicly said they plan on arming themselves for protection.

“Arming everyone when there is an act of violence — I don’t think — is the long-term solution,” Gainer said.

Gainer was chief of the U.S. Capitol Police from 2002 to 2006. Later, he served as Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, from 2007 to 2014.