Leaving Washington this morning, and I'm happy to say that I had no personal encounters with law enforcement during this visit. But the ubiquity of police officers is something any visitor to the nation's capital notices. It was this way even before September 11, 2001. Washington, a Federal city, has complex and confusing rules about who's in charge of what, and it means that several law enforcement agencies — dozens, maybe — share responsibility for protecting and defending. These five are just the most visible.
1. The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. You can identify District residents by how they refer to the local police. If you live here, you never say "DCPD," you say "MPD" or "DC Metro Police." The Department, one of the nation's ten largest city police forces, was created in 1861 at the express desire of President Abraham Lincoln. Because Washington has no county or state government, the MPD does many of the things a county sheriff's office or state troopers might do, including maintaining a sex offenders' registry. The current Chief of Police is Cathy Lanier, the first woman to hold that position; an unwed mother at 15, she started her career as a foot patrolman with the MPD, and now holds advanced degrees from Johns Hopkins and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. Want to feel like an underachiever? She's only 42 years old.
2. The United States Marshals Service. Because Washington doesn't have a sheriff, US Deputy Marshals fill this function by providing security to not only Federal courtrooms but District courtrooms as well.
3. United States Capitol Police. When I first worked around Capitol Hill, popular opinion had it that being a member of the Capitol Police was pretty easy duty, especially compared to being a Metro Police officer. That was probably never fair, and it's certainly changed since 2001, when the Capitol grounds became an armed camp. You can't stop letting citizens into the Capitol, or into the Congressional office buildings; that access is essential to our democracy. But the token ID card I was issued as a registered lobbyist is now something real (though I no longer carry one), and the Capitol Police take their responsibilities very seriously. In addition to protecting the Capitol and its grounds, they are also responsible for the personal security of members of Congress and their families.
4. United States Park Police. Much of Washington, DC is federal land, and the Park Police have primary responsibility for policing it. You'll see them on the grounds at the monuments (although the Smithsonian has its own police force), and they ride horses through Rock Creek Park and during parades. (Horses are supposed to be good for crowd control, not only because they give police officers a better view of the crowd but also because people are less likely to hurt a horse than they are another human being. Think about that.) The Park Police's authority overlaps with the Capitol Police in the area around Capitol Hill.
5. United States Secret Service. In addition to the guys in suits who protect the President, they also have a uniformed service, and their responsibilities include protecting embassies of foreign countries as well as the White House. The Secret Service used to be an agency of the Treasury Department, but has been part of the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. Besides personal protection of the President, Vice President, and other high-ranking federal officials, the Secret Service has primary responsibility for investigating and enforcing laws against counterfeiting and money laundering.