After Capitol riot, Congress eyes bipartisan reform of its own protectors

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chairwoman of the regulatory body, said Capitol Police Board reform will be “one of the key recommendations” in its committee’s joint report with the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee due by the end of April .

Prior to January 6, the Board’s Byzantine operations were an integral part of the hill’s bureaucracy. Its members respond to the appropriators who set the Capitol Police’s budget and an inspector general who is not independent from the board. While it was an occasional headache for lawmakers, the board seldom caught the attention of the congressional leadership.

After the uprising, lawmakers learned a lot about the clunky system that stuttered when a mob overtook the building. The then Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund phoned then Sergeant Paul Irving and then Senate Sergeant Michael Stenger during the uprising, and the three tried to get on the same page about urging National Guard assistance .

Their mutual challenges crystallized in an ongoing argument over the timing of their phone calls and whether the concentration of power in the three board members contributed to the delay in assisting an attacked Capitol. Sund has since said he regrets his resignation. (Irving and Stenger also resigned after the uprising.)

After the uprising, the police force is unlikely to continue operating under the political radar. Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi’s proposal for an independent external review has stalled amid opposition from the GOP, but both parties appear poised to make significant changes to the structure of the board.

The last time Blunt tried to make changes to the Capitol Police Board – after a 2017 surveillance report damaged its organizational structure – he encountered opposition from congressional officials. Top members of both parties have endorsed the current structure of the Board of Directors because they have the power to appoint its members.

“We have to find a way to get around that – either to convince them or to find a way that the current system can work in everyday activities,” said Blunt.

Blunt, who recently announced he will be leaving Congress after 2022, added that he has not yet figured out whether the Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker, who each appoint one of the Police Headquarters members, want to keep the current setup .

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declined to weigh up, saying only that the New York Democrat was looking forward to reviewing the recommendations of the committees investigating the insurrection.

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, noted that there was a bipartisan agreement that the board of directors must be reformed. A report on Capitol security ordered by Pelosi earlier this year recommended changing the way the board works during crises, Hammill noted.

“The Capitol Police Board’s deliberate decision-making process proved too slow and cumbersome to respond to the January crisis and delayed requests for critical additional resources,” wrote Lieutenant General Russell Honoré in his report for Pelosi. He added that the Capitol Police Chief should be able to request National Guard assistance “in exceptional or urgent circumstances” without prior approval from the board.

Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security, said that while he and his GOP colleagues have “found a number of areas where there is such an agreement,” he did not want to telegraph specific recommendations, as long as the committees still exist, run their probe.

The weeks after the uprising have only underscored the police agency’s lack of public communication about the vital role they are doing in securing a Congress that has faced unique threats in recent years. Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman recently requested an extension of the National Guard’s deployment at the Capitol, but suggested on the same day that the entire board had not yet signed her request.

The board also had questions about its near utter silence after the January 6 attack. Pittman specifically declined to commit to a press conference when questioned by lawmakers during a February hearing, claiming that her department’s resources were better focused on other areas.

The agency’s silence lasted well into spring, prompting the house’s top appropriators to beat up the Capitol Police Board on Monday.

“[W]We are writing today to express your frustration at your unwillingness to release information to the public or answer media questions about the January 6th events, ”wrote Representatives Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R -Wash.) In a letter on the board. “The sustainable restoration of security in the capital of our country therefore requires more than just more equipment and personnel. it means publicly acknowledging the existing critical shortcomings. “

Even as lawmakers spark their frustrations with the police department, the Capitol Police Chief – a non-voting member under his control – has called for a $ 70 million annual budget increase to add nearly 1,000 new officers in response to what they say growing threat environment. The House and Senate are also considering passing an additional spending bill to fund increased security measures for lawmakers.

In the meantime, investigative committees are reviewing more than 14,000 hours of surveillance camera footage dated Jan. 6, provided by Capitol Police officers. The disclosure was first revealed in a court case on Monday evening.

Prosecutors accusing hundreds of people of violating the Capitol are also working to steer strict police control over this footage, which is central to dozens of criminal cases against suspected rioters.

In a recent lawsuit, prosecutors for the U.S. law firm in Washington, DC asked a judge to seal three Capitol security videos in order not to be seen by the public as Capitol police warned the security material disclosure terrorists could indicate the location of important convention offices and cameras. The footage is part of the government trial against Nathaniel Degrave, who was charged with police assault on January 6th.

But Washington, DC chief federal judge Beryl Howell has already ordered the release of five videos from Capitol surveillance cameras detaining Emanuel Jackson, who was accused of attacking several police officers with a metal bat on Jan. 6.

While the police department is an obvious culprit for the numerous failures that contributed to the January 6 attack, efforts to fix the problem are unlikely to end there.

Senate hearings have also indicated that the Pentagon is not reacting quickly to an urgent request for assistance from the National Guard. And lawmakers have feared that despite plans by militia groups to break through the Capitol, federal efforts to gather intelligence agencies did not issue clear warnings of the insurrection.

Terrance Gainer, who served as a Senate sergeant from 2007 to 2014, said these conflicting factors made it difficult to attribute the Jan. 6 errors solely to the police.

Gainer, who served on Honoré’s task force, said the Capitol Police needed a way to summon the National Guard more efficiently and better handle the intelligence community. However, he credited the Police Department with allowing the House and Senate – which have very different security needs – to exercise control over their own chambers.

Gainer added that getting a single person to decide on Capitol security issues is not the answer.

“I don’t think that fits the model of an independent house and an independent senate.”

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment