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Alexandria shooting underscores security challenge in DC region, expert says

When a congressional baseball practice becomes a crime scene, it demonstrates the challenge that local and state law enforcement face in Northern Virginia and the rest of the region around the nation s capital.

The good news is Virginia is close to Washington, D.C., and the bad news is that Virginia is close to Washington, D.C., said George W. Foresman, formerly the state s top homeland security official and undersecretary for homeland security preparedness under then-President George W. Bush.

Washington, D.C., continues to be in the bull s-eye for internal strife and external strife, Foresman said Wednesday after a Republican congressional leader and four others were wounded in an Alexandria park by a 66-year-old gunman from Illinois. The gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, had volunteered in the Democratic presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who took the Senate floor on Wednesday to condemn the attack as a despicable act of violence. The front line of defense in the shooting were members of the Capitol Police, who returned fire. Two officers were wounded in the gunbattle with Hodgkinson, who later died of his wounds.

The second line of defense were Alexandria police officers, who responded quickly to the scene. Next came the Virginia State Police, whose members were already there when State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty reached out to Alexandria Police Chief Michael L. Brown, a longtime friend, to offer state assistance, Flaherty said.

We have some investigative tools in our toolbox that were already on the way up there to help with the crime scene, Flaherty said. The National Capital Region, as it is known, was one of the highest priorities for hardening security and increasing law enforcement vigilance after terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that included a deadly strike at the Pentagon in Arlington County.

Everybody s got to be vigilant in today s time, but in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, local law enforcement may have to be a step or two more vigilant, New York City as well, Foresman said. The challenge for law enforcement is heightened by the nature of American society, in which government officials move freely, he said. In a democracy, we don t separate all of our public leaders from the people they serve.

Flaherty said Virginia State Police works closely with federal and local law enforcement at its fusion center in Chesterfield County to monitor online chatter about what he called known events that could present security risks, especially in a state with major federal military and other installations as well as close proximity to Washington.

Quite frankly, we re a free country … and we have to have access to our public officials, the superintendent said. They don t want to be walled off.

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