By the end of the Columbus Day weekend, more than 70 officers charged with protecting Congress had called in sick, the Washington Post reports. It was the largest number of Capitol Police officers who ever had “banged in.” Many say they really were sick — an illness brought on by fatigue. The continual elevated terror alerts have meant weeks and weeks of 12-hour shifts, little vacation, and fewer days off. When Congress decided to stay in session rather than adjourn for the holiday weekend, it was, for many, the last straw. “The officers are extremely fatigued. They’re really stressed out,” said U.S. Capitol officer Andy Maybo, chairman of the police union.
Across the country, especially in Washington and New York, police officers and federal agents say the heightened alert and the strain of working long hours with no end in sight are taking their toll. Experts on policing, police chiefs, and the officers themselves wonder whether the law enforcement agencies can sustain the current staffing levels without a general change in policy by government agencies that would provide some financial and manpower relief. “It is a real challenge to balance legitimate security needs against the economics of what’s possible,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank. “They have to be more sensitive to the diminishing returns of keeping officers on extended overtime without resting them. Police chiefs are going to have to be more strategic.” Chiefs also must worry about how to pay bills. “We have been making the case to our congressional leaders that New York, along with Washington, deserves special attention when it comes to federal counterterrorism funding,” New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.