CHELTENHAM, Md. — Members of the U.S. Capitol Police are undergoing training this week on responding to hazardous chemicals, suspicious packages and threats of explosives.
The training is being provided to sworn officers and civilian members of the department, the law enforcement agency tasked with protecting members of Congress and congressional buildings. It is offered annually at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, a 372-acre facility in Cheltenham.
Though the Capitol Police routinely responds to suspicious items, the exercises are especially relevant this year, coming months after a Mississippi man was charged with sending letters laced with the poison ricin to officials, including President Barack Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican. Police sensed early on that the material in question was ricin and then confirmed it through multiple tests, said Gary Sprifke Jr., the commander of the Capitol Police hazardous materials response team.
On Tuesday, participants in the training did classroom reviews before donning protective gear and using flow charts and special high-tech equipment to determine the characteristics of given liquids or powders.
Sometimes the testing process can be complicated, but officials have often an early indication of what type of material they’re dealing with, Sprifke said.
“Our goal is to get in and be gone within an hour, in and out, without major evacuations,” he said.