Capitol Police Watchdog Says Force Needs ‘Cultural Change’

April 16, 2021by Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press
In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, photo, police form a line to guard the Capitol after violent rioters stormed the Capitol, in Washington. The top watchdog for the U.S. Capitol Police will testify to Congress for the first time about the department’s broad failures before and during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Among them was missed intelligence and old weapons that officers didn’t feel comfortable using. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Capitol Police force needs “cultural change” after the broad failures of the Jan. 6 insurrection, the top watchdog for the department testified Thursday, pointing to inadequate training and outdated weaponry as among several urgent problems facing the force. 

Capitol Police Inspector General Michael A. Bolton has issued confidential monthly reports on the force’s missteps since the siege, when hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters broke into the building and sent lawmakers fleeing for their lives. In a 104-page report obtained by The Associated Press, he casts serious doubt on the force’s ability to respond to future threats and another large-scale attack. 

Bolton told the House Administration Committee that the Capitol Police needs to improve its intelligence gathering, training, and operational planning. The way the force views its mission also needs to change, he said.

“A police department is geared to be a reactive force, for the most part,” Bolton said. “Whereas a protective agency is postured, in their training and planning, to be proactive to prevent events such as January 6th.”

The Capitol Police have so far refused to publicly release Bolton’s report — prepared in March and marked as “law enforcement sensitive.” But lawmakers discussed many of its findings at the hearing and agreed that there need to be major improvements. House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren said the department needs to be stronger and more effective “not just to keep the Capitol and those work here safer, but to keep the men and women who wear its uniform safe.” 

Bolton found that the department’s deficiencies were, and remain, widespread: Equipment was old and stored badly; officers didn’t complete required training; and there was a lack of direction at the Civil Disturbance Unit, which exists to ensure that legislative functions of Congress are not disrupted by civil unrest. That was exactly what happened on Jan. 6 when Trump supporters violently pushed past police and broke into the Capitol as Congress counted the Electoral College votes that certified Joe Biden’s victory.

Bolton’s report also focuses on several pieces of missed intelligence, including the force’s inconsistent information gathering and an FBI memo sent the day before the insurrection that then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told lawmakers he never saw. That memo, included in the report’s appendix, warned of threatening online postings by Trump backers, including one that said Congress “needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in” and blood being spilled.

The Capitol Police said in a statement Wednesday that officials had already made some of the recommended improvements. The siege was “a pivotal moment” in history, they said, that showed the need for “major changes” in how the department operates. 

Still, they said, “nearly all of the recommendations require significant resources the department does not have.” 

House lawmakers are hoping to provide some of those resources in spending legislation that could be proposed as soon as this month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the money would not only go to “hardening” the Capitol’s windows and doors but also to hiring and training officers. 

Bolton told the panel that more money for training should be the highest priority. 

“If you want to invest dollars, that’s the place to invest in, training,” Bolton said. “Training deficiencies put officers, our brave men and women, in a position not to succeed.” 

His report describes in detail how department equipment was substandard, including at least 11 different types of munitions that appeared to have expired. Other weapons that could have fired tear gas were so old that officers didn’t feel comfortable using them. Some riot shields shattered upon impact. Bolton found that those shields had been improperly stored. 

In other cases, weapons weren’t used by the Capitol Police because of “orders from leadership,” the investigation found. Some of those heavier weapons — called “less lethal” because they are designed to disperse rather than kill — could have helped the police repel the rioters as they moved toward the Capitol after Trump’s speech, Bolton said. 

Asked by Lofgren why those weapons weren’t used, Bolton said leaders were concerned that at least one of them, a “stinger” ball grenade, could have resulted in “life-altering injury or death.” Bolton said the weapons, which disperse stinging rubber pellets, could be deadly if misused but officers who are properly trained can use them safely. 

“It certainly would have provided the department a better posture to repel these attackers” if they had used those grenades, Bolton said. 

The committee also discussed reforming the Capitol Police Board, an antiquated command structure that puts the Capitol Police Chief in the position of seeking approval from House and Senate security officials, even in emergencies. 

The board was initially hesitant to approve a National Guard presence when Sund requested it ahead of the 6th, and Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have since said the process needs to be overhauled. Bolton suggested the possibility of installing a director above the chief of police who is responsible for all security in the Capitol complex. 

Lofgren said she thinks the board needs to be reviewed. “What replaces it is the challenge,” she said. “Something that is professional and accountable and apolitical, that’s what we all want.” 

The riot has pushed the Capitol Police force toward a state of crisis, with officers working extra shifts and forced overtime to protect the Capitol. The acting chief, Yogananda Pittman, received a vote of no confidence from the union in February, reflecting widespread distrust among the rank and file who were left exposed and injured as the violent mob descended on the building. Morale has plummeted.

The force is also grieving the deaths of three of their own. Officer Brian Sicknick collapsed and died after engaging with protesters on Jan. 6. Officer William “Billy” Evans was killed April 2 when he was hit by a car that rammed into a barricade outside the Senate. A third officer, Howard Liebengood, died by suicide in the days after the insurrection. 

___

Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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