Riot Review Seeks Sweeping Changes to Hill Security

March 9, 2021 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – A task force examining security shortcomings on Capitol Hill after the Jan. 6 riot that left five people dead has concluded a myriad of fundamental changes are needed to ensure such an event never happens again.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré and members of his task force briefed lawmakers on its findings and draft recommendations Monday as multiple congressional committees continue to examine the failures that allowed a mob of Trump supporters to breach and trash the U.S. Capitol.

Among the recommendations is the hiring of more than 800 additional Capitol Police officers, the deployment of mobile fencing around the Capitol complex, and allowing the chief of the Capitol Police to quickly summon the National Guard during an emergency.

In a written statement issued Monday afternoon, the Capitol Police department said it “looks forward to reviewing the detailed recommendations from Lt. General Russel Honoré and his team.

“We believe enhancements to the Capitol complex’s physical infrastructure are required,” the statement said. “We also agree we need to increase our manpower and overall response capabilities. 

“The Department will continue to work with our congressional stakeholders and law enforcement partners as we strengthen our security measures at the Capitol,” the statement concluded.

According to the report, “the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 brought into stark relief the need to immediately improve the security of the Capitol complex and the security of congressional members and staff.”

Among other things, the task force found that the Capitol Police were “understaffed, insufficiently equipped, and inadequately trained to secure the Capitol and members when violently attacked by a large mob.”

It also found the agency is “not postured to track, assess, plan against, or respond to this plethora of threats due to significant capacity shortfalls … immature processes and an operating culture that is not intelligence-driven.”

The task force is also recommending that current law be changed to give the Capitol Police chief the authority to seek the help of other law enforcement agencies and the National Guard without pre-approval from the Capitol Police Board in “extraordinary emergency circumstances.”

These include situations in which the aid is needed to prevent “the loss of life or wanton destruction of property and to restore government functions and public order.”

In addition, the task force says the Capitol Police chief should be able to immediately appeal a decision by the Capitol Police Board to House and Senate congressional leaders.

The task force is also recommending that a Defense Department directive be amended to make clear that the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard has emergency authority to act in urgent circumstances when prior authorization by the president is not possible and local authorities can’t contain a situation.

The report recommends that a federal agency, such as the Department of Homeland Security, lead a collaborative effort to include the Capitol Police Board and representatives from leadership in D.C., Maryland and Virginia so that those stakeholders can engage in collective planning.

Member security while traveling and in lawmakers’ districts also needs to be bolstered in a significant way, the task force says.

Changes include developing a threat-based protection model for the Capitol Police’s Dignitary Protection Division that can be consistently applied to non-leadership members of Congress by allocating protection resources based on an evaluation of risk to members and their families.

The task force also recommends funding for home security systems for every member of Congress.

One concern shared by lawmakers and the general public alike in the Capito district is the future of the barbed wire fence that remains in place around the Capitol Complex.

The task force recommends that as the fencing comes down, it be replaced by a mobile fencing option that is “easily erected and deconstructed.”

It goes on to say that long term, lawmakers should fund the installation of “an integrated, retractable fencing system … to secure both the Capitol Building and Congressional office buildings.”

“Such a solution could enable an open campus while giving security forces better options to protect the complex and its members should a threat develop,” the report said.

Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have been outspoken about their discontent both with the task force and the bipartisan commission that has been proposed to look into the Jan. 6 riot.

Late last month, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the proposed panel – with seven Democrats and four Republicans – as “partisan by design.”

On Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy expressed the same concerns about the task force.

“While there may be some worthy recommendations forthcoming, Lt. Gen. Honoré’s notorious partisan bias calls into question the rationality of appointing him to lead this important security review,” McCarthy said in a statement. “It also raises the unacceptable possibility that the speaker desired a certain result: turning the Capitol into a fortress.”

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