Capitol Police watchdog paints damning picture of Jan. 6 failures

The Capitol Police’s internal watchdog on Thursday described in harrowing detail how officers were woefully underprepared for the Jan. 6 insurrection after leaders failed to communicate intelligence warnings and decided against providing more effective weapons to fight back the violent mob.

In testimony before a House committee, Capitol Police inspector general Michael Bolton highlighted two recent reports listing numerous failures by the top brass and called for a major overhaul of training and operations on the force.

Bolton told lawmakers on the House Administration Committee that the Capitol Police leadership opted against using stronger weapons such as sting balls out of concerns that they would be misused and cause life-altering injuries or death amid the attack on the Capitol.

If those heavier weapons had been used, Bolton said, it would have helped the Capitol Police establish a “better posture to repel these attackers.”

“It would be very difficult to say it would’ve absolutely turned the tide, but it certainly would’ve given them a better chance at doing what they needed to do,” he added. 

Bolton’s two reports have focused on the Capitol Police’s intelligence-gathering operations and the Civil Disturbance Unit that is tasked with responding to protests. The inspector general’s office is now in the process of providing “flash reports” every 30 days that are expected to cover other factors in the Capitol Police’s response to Jan. 6, including manpower usage, training and K-9 units.

The reports found that Capitol Police failed to ensure that an FBI bulletin warning of the threat of violence reached members of leadership before Jan. 6. According to the report, a Capitol Police task force officer assigned to the FBI Guardian Squad Task Force emailed the FBI memo to an internal Capitol Police email distribution list “late in the evening” on Jan. 5, but neither then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund or now-acting Chief Yogananda Pittman saw it in time.

Bolton said Capitol Police should upgrade its intelligence division to a full-scale bureau and ensure analysts are properly trained to manage intelligence about threats to the Capitol and members of Congress.

“We need an intelligence bureau. Right now it’s considered an intelligence division. It needs to be a full-service, comprehensive bureau,” Bolton said Thursday.

His report further recommends requiring all Capitol Police employees to obtain security clearances and receive classified briefings on emerging threats and tactics.

But Bolton confirmed in response to questioning from Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) that the Capitol Police inspector general’s office has made that recommendation before — including in 2019 — only for the force to ignore it.

“A number of the past reports’ recommendations have been made, but not implemented,” Steil said in frustration.

About 140 Capitol Police and D.C. police officers were injured during the insurrection, while one officer, Brian Sicknick, died. A second Capitol Police officer, Howard Liebengood, died of suicide days later.

“The Inspector General’s report confirms that USCP leadership had actionable intelligence and did nothing with it. They can try to blame the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security but the leadership of USCP needs to take responsibility,” Gus Papathanasiou, chairman of the Capitol Police union, said Thursday. 

“Congress needs to hold these leaders accountable,” he added.

Other reforms sought by Bolton include making the Civil Disturbance Unit a more attractive assignment within the Capitol Police. His findings depicted the unit as having a reputation among officers as a less desirable placement and only functioning on an “ad hoc” basis.

Bolton suggested providing extra hazard pay for officers serving within the unit as a financial incentive and making it a specially trained, full-time assignment.

“I firmly believe that when you create a specialized unit, a standalone, that receives the additional training, that receives the recommendation that they are, as you would say, professionalized, that naturally is going to attract others to want to belong to an elite unit,” Bolton said in response to questioning from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

The inspector general’s report found that the Capitol Police failed to ensure that its weapons inventory was adequately maintained, leaving officers without the proper equipment to defend themselves from the violent mob of insurrectionists.

According to the report, some of the Capitol Police’s riot shields shattered upon impact because they were improperly stored in a trailer that wasn’t climate-controlled. In addition, a platoon from the Civil Disturbance Unit couldn’t access other riot shields stored on a bus because the door was locked. The platoon consequently had to respond to the mob without any riot shields.

“Training deficiencies put officers, our brave men and women, in a position not to succeed,” Bolton testified.

Congress is expected to take up a spending package focused on boosting Capitol security, but its timing is still unclear. In addition to Bolton’s reports, lawmakers are also reviewing recommendations from a team led by former Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré.

Honoré’s report called for hiring more police officers and establishing a retractable fence around the Capitol that could be erected in emergency situations.

Lawmakers are expected to reconvene with Bolton at a later date to ask more questions about his reports and how Congress should act on them.

House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) paused the hearing on Thursday afternoon due to a lengthy series of floor votes, but said it would reconvene Friday or sometime next week so that members would have additional opportunities for questions.

Tags Bryan Steil Capitol breach Capitol police Inspector General insurrection Jamie Raskin rioters watchdog Zoe Lofgren

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