Threats to lawmakers up 93.5 percent in last two months
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told lawmakers on Wednesday that threats against members of Congress have nearly doubled in the past year.
In testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee that deals with the Capitol Police budget, Pittman said there has been a 93.5 percent increase in threats to members in the first two months of 2021 compared to the same period last year.
She also said that threats have more than doubled overall — by about 119 percent — from 2017 to 2020, with most suspects living outside the Washington region.
Pittman said a “significant focus” of the Capitol Police’s budget request will be centered on member security and more personnel will need to be hired to handle the number of threats, which she described as “through the roof.”
“While we have complemented our increased posture with the leveraging of federal, state and local law enforcement partnerships with the collective goal of protecting the Congress away from the Capitol Grounds, the number of agents required to provide an appropriate level of analysis, protection and enforcement necessitates a significant increase in personnel based on the threats trends year-over-year,” Pittman said in her prepared testimony.
Pittman also said that the level of “existential threats” to the Capitol and its grounds are increasing, justifying the need for having a “dedicated standby ready force” of 80 officers at all times so that Capitol Police don’t have to fully rely on partner law enforcement agencies when there’s an immediate threat.
Pittman’s budget request for the Capitol Police includes funding for 212 new sworn officers to help with the new standby force, threat assessments and protection details for individual members of Congress.
The Capitol Police is asking in its budget request for 111 dignitary protection agents, who are assigned to high-profile members of Congress who are more likely to face threats.
She said that the Capitol Police currently only has regular security details for the top congressional leaders and has had to borrow agents from those units when individual rank-and-file members suddenly face threats.
The nine House impeachment managers, for example, still have security details who accompany them nearly a month after the Senate trial concluded on Feb. 13. Pittman said that the Capitol Police had to pull agents from the congressional leadership details to protect the impeachment managers.
“So if we have other threats that are coming in, we are really dependent upon our law enforcement partners. They do a great job, but these numbers in this FY22 budget give us a chance to address that from within. We know that we’re the best at protecting members of Congress,” Pittman testified.
Pittman is further asking to increase the number of Capitol Police intelligence analysts by 20 people, including 12 who would be contractors.
She is asking for $107 million more for the Capitol Police budget compared to last year to reflect increased salary and resource costs in light of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which would include providing specialized training for officers as well as investments in security equipment.
“The events of Jan. 6 caused the Department to reevaluate its budget justification, specifically around the emergency needs to meet the emerging threats and risk,” Pittman said.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on legislative branch operations, said lawmakers would be expecting improvements in response to increasing the police force’s funding.
“If we’re going to be jacking up the budget by hundreds of millions of dollars, or whatever the number ends up being, we want to make damn sure that the information, the processes, the communication, the command and control, the training, the helmets, the equipment, all of that, has got to be tops in the country,” Ryan said.
The Capitol Police said on Wednesday that it obtained intelligence of a “possible plot” to breach the Capitol by a militia group on Thursday, which some followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory believe is the day that former President Trump will be inaugurated. March 4 used to be the traditional presidential inauguration day until the ratification of the Constitution’s 20th Amendment in 1933, which changed the date to Jan. 20.
Additional Capitol Police officers will be on duty on Thursday to reflect a heightened security posture.
“We have already made significant security upgrades to include establishing a physical structure and increasing manpower to ensure the protection of Congress, the public and our police officers,” the Capitol Police said in a statement.
Pittman declined to go into further detail during the hearing about the March 4-related threats to the Capitol, but agreed to privately brief members of the House Appropriations Committee later Wednesday about the intelligence.
“We are prepared to respond appropriately. We do have some concerning intelligence. That intelligence is law enforcement sensitive,” Pittman said. “We have enhanced our security posture. We’ve taken immediate steps to let the National Guard as well as our workforce know what to expect tomorrow and going forward.”
More than 80 Capitol Police officers were injured during the rioting by a mob of Trump’s supporters who were trying to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election results earlier this year. One Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, died from injuries sustained while engaging with the mob. Another officer, Howard Liebengood, died of suicide days after the attack.
Pittman said during another appearance before the House Appropriations subcommittee last week that the tall perimeter fencing and National Guard troops on Capitol Hill are necessary while there are ongoing threats. She noted at the time that some militia members involved in the Jan. 6 attack have expressed a desire to “blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible” whenever President Biden delivers a joint address to Congress. A date for such a speech has not yet been scheduled.
– Updated at 1:40 p.m.