Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) made two false calls for emergency help from U.S. Capitol Police last week ― just to see how long it would take for officers to arrive, according to two Capitol Police officers.
Fortenberry told Capitol Police he wanted to test the duress button in his office, which signals an emergency situation. It was an unusual request, but one that Capitol Police agreed to, these officers said. So when Fortenberry pushed the button, they didn’t respond, because they knew it was a test.
However, according to the officers, it turns out the Republican lawmaker wasn’t testing the device itself; he was testing how quickly police would come to his office. When they didn’t come, he pushed the button a second time. Officers were almost to his office when they got word it was a test, so they turned back. This apparently upset Fortenberry, who concluded the officers were slow to respond.
A spokesperson for Fortenberry initially did not respond to multiple requests for comment. After the story published, his office provided this statement from Fortenberry’s chief of staff, Andrew Braner: “The Congressman strongly supports the Capitol Police, which is why we constructively worked through an unfortunate delay during a test of the duress alarm system with the police on the phone.”
The same week that officers say Fortenberry conducted his test, President Joe Biden and Hill leaders held a ceremony honoring Capitol Police Officer William “Billy” Evans, who was killed on April 2 when a vehicle rammed into a Senate barricade. Just weeks earlier, Biden and others honored another Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, who died after protecting lawmakers and others during the violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Fortenberry’s actions infuriated at least some Capitol Police officers who have been on edge amid the Capitol violence over the past few months.
“The Department is already overworked and hypervigilant for actual threats. Morale cannot get any worse,” said one of the two officers, both of whom requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “This sort of behavior from a member or their staff is reprehensible.”
The second officer said it was mostly just annoying, chalking up the episode to miscommunication.
“Apparently he doesn’t feel safe in a building with 800 officers in it,” this officer said. “This guy is testing our response. But 10 minutes later, you move on.”
The officer added: “I’m not saying I’d make the same decision.”
Someone was angry enough about Fortenberry’s actions to add a section to his Wikipedia page, but that paragraph has since been deleted.
Here’s a screenshot from when it was still up:
When a lawmaker pushes the duress button in his or her office, it automatically triggers a minimum three-person response from the Capitol Police, the first officer told HuffPost. Typically, a supervisor and two officers rush to the location where the button was pushed.
“It’s a charge in most jurisdictions to misuse police services,” the officer said.