Government Shutdown 2019: Federal agents, correctional officers raise safety concerns

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Federal agents and correctional officers are raising safety and security concerns due to the historic government shutdown.

In Chicago, workers rallied at Federal Plaza Thursday, including union leader Sam Kitchen of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3652. He represents correctional officers and other workers at Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Facility, which houses more than 600 federal inmates awaiting trial.

In addition to security issues, Kitchen raised concerns that employees won't be able to afford gas and get to work.

"Who is going to supervise the inmate population?" he said. "I don't know, but when we can't come to work, you can't just lock them in a cell and say 'forget about it!'"

The FBI Agents Association is also raising a red flag. Earlier this week, the group released a report that concludes the government shutdown is impacting investigations and operations, including crimes against children, sex trafficking, counter-terrorism operations, and drug and gang crime.

"The ongoing government shutdown undermines our ability to perform these duties and fund necessary operations and investigations," the report said.

Democratic leaders in Illinois are voicing their frustration and concerns, especially when it comes to safety and security.

Senator Tammy Duckworth is one of those lawmakers.

"The cases FBI and other law enforcement agencies are pursuing and investigating, they may miss things during this shutdown that they may not be able to recover later on," Duckworth said.

After the FBI Agents Association released its report, EyeWitness News reached out to Chicago's FBI office. Officials responded with a statement: "FBI-Chicago remains focused on fulfilling our public safety and national security missions."

"Security and safety are real concerns because workers' morale is being impacted," said Annette Heintze, founder of Hillard Heintze, a firm focusing on global security risk management. "It's starting to impact morale and it's starting to cause concern in those that are sworn to protect and serve our nation and protect our homeland."

And it's not just a morale issue. Heintze said federal jobs that require focus and attention, like TSA agents, may also be impacted.

"It impacts their desire to pay attention to the things that are important on the job," he said. "But yet, what happens, they are getting distracted. How are they going to pay the bills? How are they going to feed their children?"
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