How the Secret Service Can Restore Its Tarnished Image

It was no doubt coincidental but the day after I attended a book signing for Jerry Parr, the Secret Service agent who saved President Reagan's life after he was shot by John Hinckley in 1981, the Washington Post reported the latest scandal involving the Secret Service.

According to the Post, the senior agent who supervises President Obama's security detail was involved in an embarrassing incident last May at the historic Hay-Adams hotel, which overlooks the White House. The agent, who was off-duty at the time, apparently tried to re-enter a woman's room to retrieve a bullet from his government-issued handgun that he accidentally left behind.

The page one story, headlined "Secret Service agents are removed from Obama's detail," said the agent joined the woman in her room after they met in the hotel's bar -- which ironically is named "Off the Record" -- but was denied access by her when he returned a short time later.

The newspaper reported that the agent and a fellow supervisor had sent inappropriate and sexually suggestive messages to the female agent, and both male agents have been removed from the detail. No action was taken against the female agent.

A day later, the Post reported that the Hay-Adams incident was just the tip of the iceberg. The Senate committee that oversees the Secret Service said an investigation showed that Secret Service agents and supervisors have been involved in sexual misconduct and other improprieties in 17 countries in recent years.

The Secret Service is trying to regain its elite reputation after it was rocked by a scandal that surfaced in April, 2012, when male agents brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, Columbia, while advancing Obama's trip to a summit meeting.

That may not seem like a big deal for an agency that has 3,500 agents and 1,400 uniformed officers, but it is deeply embarrassing for the agency, coming just days before the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.

It's too bad the Secret Service is no longer personified by men like Jerry Parr, whose book, In the Secret Service, tells the vivid story of the split second decision he made to take Reagan to a hospital instead of back to the White House that saved Reagan's life when he was shot on March 30, 1981. Parr was a special agent for 23 years, protecting two presidents and four vice presidents. I got to know him when he headed the security detail for Vice President Walter Mondale when I was Mondale's press secretary.

I won't go into the details of his book, written with his wife Carolyn, but encourage you to read it because it's not only a gripping account of the events of Reagan's fateful day, but because, in the words of Richard Allen, Reagan's national security advisor, it's "an uplifting and exemplary American story of a man and wife dedicated to serving God by serving others."

What Allen is referring to is that fact that Parr became an ordained minister specializing in pastoral counseling after he retired, and with his wife, also an ordained minister and lawyer, are actively involved in the life of Washington's inner city.

The only quibble I will make about the book is that Parr fails to tell us what he once told me Reagan said to him after he pushed the wounded Reagan into the presidential limousine and fall on him, covering him with his body. "You son of a bitch," the president exclaimed, not realizing that Hinckley's bullet was responsible, "you've broken my ribs!

Other than that, it's a wonderful book. Read it. You'll enjoy it. And I hope every Secret Service agent reads it too. Maybe it will help the agency restore its tarnished image.