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What if you blew the whistle and nobody heard?

COMMENTARY | April 20, 2005

A whisteblower is by nature a watchdog's best friend. But former U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, who was fired for telling a reporter that her department was understaffed, wonders why she and her concerns have been swept under the rug.

By Teresa Chambers




The plight of whistleblowers – those employees who sound the alarm about anything from dangerous conditions in the workplace to missed or ignored intelligence regarding our nation’s security – is a story that seems to grow stronger and with more frequency every day.


My guess is that those stories have always been there; I suspect I am just paying closer attention to them now.


You see, I joined the “ranks” of whistleblowers more than one year ago when, on December 2, 2003, a major newspaper printed a story in which I confirmed for them what many of us already knew: We, the members of the United States Park Police, could no longer provide the level of service that citizens and visitors had grown to expect in our parks and on our parkways in Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco.   The world changed for all of us on September 11, 2001, and the expectations of police agencies across the country grew exponentially overnight.


As the chief of the United States Park Police, an organization responsible for some of America’s most valued and recognizable symbols of freedom, I knew it was my duty, as chiefs of police across the country do every day, to inform the community of the realities of the situation.  


For being candid -- for being "honest" -- while still being supportive of my superiors, I was, without warning, stripped of my law enforcement authority, badge, and firearm, and escorted from the Department of the Interior by armed special agents of another federal law enforcement entity in December of 2003. Seven months later, the Department of the Interior terminated me.


Frighteningly, the issues I brought to light about our citizens' and visitors' safety and security and the future of these American icons have not been addressed -- other than to silence me. In fact, there are fewer United States Park Police Officers today than there were more than one year ago when I was sent home for daring to say that we weren't able to properly meet our commitments with existing resources. Other security concerns I raised internally have also gone un-addressed.


Imagine the outcry if I had stayed silent and one of those symbolic monuments or memorials had been destroyed, or the loss of life had occurred to someone visiting one of those locations. I did not want to be standing with my superiors among the ruins of one of these icons or in front of a Congressional committee trying to explain why we hadn't asked for help.


Despite the serious First Amendment and security implications of my case for each American, there has been no Congressional intervention, no Congressional hearings, no demand of accountability by elected officials for those who took action to silence me and who have ignored all warnings about the perils to which I alerted them.  Following my termination and the publicity that accompanied it, it is unlikely that any current federal employee will be willing to speak up with straightforward, accurate information about the realities of any danger we face.


Our legal appeals continue, and some of the administrative charges placed against me have already been thrown out.  Through it all, it is becoming clear that federal employees have little protection for simply telling the truth.


My story is told on a website, www.honestchief.com, established in December 2003 and maintained by my husband so that the American people could “witness” the issues in this case.


The website has provided transparency to my situation by making key documents available for viewing, including the transcripts of depositions of top officials and their testimony during a key administrative hearing.


Suppression of information is spreading – gag orders, non-disclosure agreements, and the government’s refusal to turn over documents.


In agencies across the federal service, conscientious public servants are struggling to communicate vital concerns to their true employers – you, the American public.


Is anyone listening?


05/02/2005, 12:05 PM

Several years ago, I did a lot of research, involving the hell that women in uniform partake in, just trying to do a HONEST, days work." To Protect and Serve." In addition, to the stories, similar that I have been told, read about, or like here in Mansfield, been somewhat personally involved with. Female, law enforcement officers, who become whistle blowers, are subject to threats actions, which at time has put their lives in danger. Member of their families and friends who have stood by then. Also the lives, rights and property of the citizens, that they are trying to protected, are also put in danger. In trying to read between the lines in your piece. I get the feeling that the Park Service is hiding something from the American people. That this whistle blowing, by you is just a ruse, to a much bigger cover up. Which I have discovered is a common practice, among the so called power pretender. Blame the whistle blowers. Make then the fall guy. LIE ABOUT THE WHISTLER,DO everything you can to discredit the person who is telling the truth. Then people will be dumb enough, to believe only us. The whistle blowers , when then get tired and let life flush her bravery down the toilet. Well CHIEF,(I do not give a damn, that the Park Service, said your not, one any more), as long as you keep speaking. No let me refrain, that word. As long as you have the GUTS, to KEEP SHOUTING OUT, about what is happening to you. Your going to make the power pretender, nervous. That itself is a victory. I just hope that some the so called power press(NYT, WP) reporters and editors who are reading your words, have the guts to follow up on your stories.

Gagging the Fuzz, Part 8
(Slate, Dec. 30, 2004)

Judge Lambastes Park Police Ex-Chief; Chambers's Assertions Called Inconsistent
(Washington Post, Oct. 9, 2004)

Fired Chief Pledges to Fight On; Chambers Declares Battle 'Just Begun'
(Washington Post, July 11, 2004)

'A Cop's Chief' Fights for Her Job; Outspokenness Wins Support Among Park Police Officers
(Washington Post, Dec. 29, 2003)

Park Service Moves to Fire Police Chief Over Comments
(Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2003)

Park Police Duties Exceed Staffing; Anti-Terror Demands Have Led Chief to Curtail Patrols Away From Mall
(Washington Post, Dec. 2, 2003)

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