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After January 6, a Long Way to Go

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After January 6, a Long Way to Go

A reimagined U.S. Capitol police force will still need fixing. July 12, 2021
Politics and law
Public safety

As municipal police departments continue to face budget reallocations—a new euphemism for “defunding”—the U.S. Capitol Police are being rewarded for their less-than-stellar January 6 performance by adding personnel and expanding their role well beyond the Capitol.

The Capitol Police, created in 1828 with a sole watchman, today oversee a two-square-mile area, including sole jurisdiction over about one-half-square-mile in downtown Washington—but the force will soon expand its reach to include field offices in California and Florida. Are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) setting up a personal protection detail for themselves and members of their state’s congressional delegation by creating a mini-FBI and Secret Service rolled into one? It certainly sounds that way. According to a spokesman, the USCP, “much like the Secret Service,” needs to be able to monitor and investigate threats against lawmakers wherever they occur.

Why now? Why not rely on the Secret Service, which investigates threats against high-level federal officials; or the FBI, which has made more than 500 arrests in connection with the January 6 attack on the Capitol? Could the reasons be that the Capitol Police are the only federal law enforcement agency whose personnel are appointed by Congress, and that the agency is the only one not subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act?

The new responsibilities come at a time when the agency is reeling. Officers, still forced to work overtime to fill pre- and post-January 6 resignations and retirements, voted no confidence in Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman. They have witnessed the politicization of the deaths of three of their colleagues: Brian Sicknick suffered a stroke and died days after the January 6 protest, William “Billy” Evans was killed by a car that rammed a barricade outside the Senate, and Howard Liebengood committed suicide shortly after the protest.

Organizational issues also plague the agency. In one of the many post-incident reviews that assailed its preparedness, Inspector General Michael Bolton reported to Congress that much of the USCP’s equipment was out-of-date, including tear gas canisters, and that officers’ riot shields shattered on impact because they had been improperly stored. In instances where equipment or weapons were actually operational, they weren’t used because of “orders from leadership.” A separate review (Capitol Security Review 1-6) called for increased staffing, improved intelligence-gathering, and fencing of the Capitol, noting that the USCP suffered from “significant capacity shortfalls, inadequate training, immature processes and an operating culture that is not intelligence-driven.”

Even Chief Pittman, according to a statement last week, admitted that the USCP has little investigative experience and was only now pivoting toward becoming an intelligence-based protective agency. Thus, after producing all the congressional security theater it could manage, House leaders have decided that—rather than fix the Capitol Police and reinforce its traditional oversight responsibilities—they will launch an ego-enhancing personal-protection agency that will try to match expertise that exists elsewhere in the federal law enforcement bureaucracy. Raise your hand if you’re surprised.

Photo by Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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