Report urges sweeping changes to Capitol security after Jan. 6 attack
The U.S. Capitol Police were “understaffed, insufficiently equipped, and inadequately trained” to protect the complex from the mob attack of Jan. 6, according to security experts reviewing the rampage who are recommending nearly 900 new officers and a retractable perimeter fence.
The 13-page report, authored by a team led by Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, identifies a host of inherent flaws in the Capitol’s intelligence-gathering, communications structure and power hierarchy that hobbled efforts to repel rioters that day.
The analysts are recommending a long list of reforms to Capitol Hill security, from conspicuous infrastructure changes — like permanent but retractable fencing — to more obscure adjustments, like the adoption of a mounted unit to patrol the grounds on horses.
Another key proposal is to empower the chief of the Capitol Police with the sole authority to summon the help of the National Guard and other reinforcements in the case of emergencies. Currently, the other members of the Capitol Police Board, including the sergeants-at-arms in both chambers, must sign off on any such decision — a structure that’s been blamed for the hours-long delay in deploying Guard troops on Jan. 6.
On Monday, Honoré will be holding three separate briefings for lawmakers about his findings and recommendations.
Among the key recommendations:
— Fencing and other infrastructure: Lawmakers are struggling to balance adequately securing the Capitol with public access to “The People’s House.” The Honoré report recommends the temporary 7-foot fencing with razor wire erected around the complex after the Jan. 6 attack be replaced in the short term with more flexible “mobile fencing” that can be easily erected and taken down. In the long term, security officials should construct “an integrated, retractable fencing system” to secure both the Capitol and the adjacent 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 says.
— More officers: The Capitol Police force employs more than 2,300 officers and civilian employees. The report recommends a “plus-up” of 874 new officers — 350 positions to cut down on the 720,000 overtime hours accrued in fiscal 2020 and 524 positions to fill “capability gaps,” including intelligence specialists, Civil Disturbance Units and special agents to protect dignitaries.
The report also urges Capitol Police to immediately fill its 233 existing vacancies in the force through recruiting and incentive programs.
— Body cameras: The report recommends that officers be equipped with body cameras, which currently are not used by Capitol Police. The cameras can protect officers from false accusations and help investigations and prosecutions. Cameras worn by D.C. Metropolitan Police officers during the Capitol riot captured some of the violent attacks against officers and other criminal acts.
— Mounted units: The report calls for reestablishing the department’s mounted unit, which was disbanded in 2005. Police horses, used in cities like Tampa, Chicago and Atlanta, can serve as a “moving wall” that can help control large crowds or antagonistic groups and are “less lethal.”
“Best used in high pedestrian and dense crowd areas, a well-trained horse and rider can assist in controlling crowds or quelling disturbances with few serious injuries to demonstrators. They increase mobility, allowing officers to reach a scene more efficiently than on foot or in a vehicle,” the report states. “A rider’s elevated position allows them to better assess a crowd and its actions, eliminate or curtail face-to-face confrontations, and provide a calming effect on a crowd in tense situations.”
— Aging K-9s: Explosive-detection dogs play a critical role in the security of the Capitol, the reports states, but the department’s K-9 unit is dealing with unfilled posts, aging dogs and other challenges. The security analysts recommend filling those vacancies and boosting the size of the K-9 unit so it can be used for other teams like the civil disturbance unit.
K-9s were likely deployed as Capitol Police investigated two pipe bombs that were found outside the Republican and Democratic national headquarters, leading to evacuations and lockdowns in the Capitol complex just moments before the attack.
— Home security: After Jan. 6, there’s been growing concern about the safety of lawmakers not only in the Capitol but also in their districts as they travel to and from Washington. The report proposes that the Capitol Police expand its program providing protection to lawmakers receiving threats, with special protective details for when members are outside Washington. It also recommends that Congress allocate new funds for members to install security systems in their homes.
— Background checks: The Capitol Police must improve its technology and procedures for screening individuals who access the complex, the report says. That includes requiring tighter background checks on people with access to the Capitol to decrease the risk of “insider” threats. Card readers should be used more widely in the complex to restrict access to certain areas.
Requested by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the report arrives amid growing criticism of the tough security measures installed since the Jan. 6 attack, including an imposing fence encircling the entire Capitol complex, as well as thousands of National Guard troops who remain in Washington to secure that perimeter.
The concern from members of both parties is that security will become so formidable that it prevents the public from accessing the grounds — a worry the reports’ authors are quick to acknowledge.
“In securing the Capitol grounds, competing desires for maximum public access and guaranteed security create a situation where neither goal is achieved,” the report reads.
It’s unclear how the recommendations will be received on Capitol Hill.
While Honoré had won acclaim from both parties for his role in coordinating the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he’s come under fire from Republicans this year for his criticism of some GOP lawmakers who had falsely claimed that President Trump’s defeat in November was the result of rampant fraud — the same issue that had prompted the pro-Trump mob to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 to overturn the election results.
“General Honoré is an extreme partisan and should be the LAST person to head up an investigation of what happened at the Capitol on Jan 6th,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said last month.
Honoré and his team acknowledged that their report will set off a “spirited debate” in Congress but warned lawmakers not to wait too long to implement the changes.
“As you consider the recommendations of this Task Force, we must not forget it was the riotous actions of an angry mob that laid bare the vulnerabilities of the Capitol Complex,” the report states.
“We must not long endure any discourse that prevents or delays efforts necessary to strengthen the security of the U.S. Capitol Complex and enhance the safety of those who serve the American people in Congress.”
Updated at 12:49 p.m.
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