WASHINGTON — The U.S. Secret Service is investigating about the same number of threats against Donald Trump as it did against the last several presidents, the agency's new director said Thursday.
"The number of threats has been fairly constant over the past 10 years, about six to eight a day," said Randolph Alles, who became Secret Service director barely a month ago.
He spoke the day after comedian Kathy Griffin was strongly condemned for posing in photographs holding up a likeness of a bloody severed head resembling Trump. She later apologized. Officials have declined to discuss her case, but such actions in the past have normally resulted in a visit from Secret Service agents to assess a person's intent.
In a discussion with reporters, Alles (pronounced like "Alice") outlined his goals for the agency he took over in late April as the first non-employee of the Secret Service in 70 years to become its leader.
"I'm impressed by the people we've got," he said, "but we need more people, because staffing shortages are affecting morale."
Uniformed Division officers routinely find that their days off are canceled. And once agents work a certain number of overtime hours, they are no longer paid for the extra hours even though they continue to work long days.
The Secret Service employs about 6,500 people. Alles wants to increase that to 7,600 within the next two years and to nearly 9,600 by 2025.
Staffing shortages have also affected operations at the White House, he said, where a series of intruders have succeeded in scaling the fence and getting onto the grounds. "There will be no easy solutions at the White House until we get the staffing up," he said.
Alles acknowledged that providing 24-hour-a-day protection at Trump's residence in New York and his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, as well as protecting members of the Trump family, have added to demands on the Secret Service.
Alles rejected suggestions by some in Congress that the Secret Service abandon its responsibilities for enforcing laws against counterfeiting and cybercrime to focus entirely on the protective mission. He said agents trained in conducting those investigations are critical to being able to gather threat information.
"Without that ability, we become just a guard force, waiting for something bad to happen," he said.
Alles served for 35 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring in 2011 with the rank of major general. He was acting Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Border protection before accepting the Secret Service assignment.
"Why did I come here? This agency is renowned for what it does," he said.
As for having an someone from outside take over, Alles said if he can "take the agency in a good direction, that will affect the perception of having an outsider in charge."