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The road to recovery — rebuilding the US Capitol Police

The road to recovery — rebuilding the US Capitol Police
© UPI Photo

The six-week review of the U.S. Capitol Police and overall security at the U.S. Capitol has been completed. Requested by the Speaker of the House and led by retired Lt. General Russell Honoré and his task force, it is professionally done and reinforces what many of us witnessed that day. That no matter how valiantly the USCP fought, no matter how many national guard, federal, state and local law enforcement officers would eventually respond that day, the USCP never had a chance. 

The task force report concludes that “the USCP are understaffed, insufficiently equipped, and inadequately trained.” Words that no workforce ever wants to hear, especially one responsible for the lives and safety of members of Congress. This fact resulted in lost lives, dozens of injuries, continuing mental health challenges for officers and Hill staff, and now, robust recommendations to improve the agency. 

From tragedy, must come lessons learned. From Congress, who has oversight of the USCP, must come leadership and solutions to give the remaining brave officers of this agency the necessary tools to succeed, and a fighting chance in the future.

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The sixteen-person nonpartisan task force included a diverse team of experienced law enforcement, legal, intelligence and military professionals. The final report focuses on USCP intelligence capabilities, operations and equipment requirements, decision making, force structure, training and program development, physical security and technology and other areas. To be sure, hiring, training, equipment, new technologies, physical security upgrades, communication and new programs should all be deemed priorities by Congress and will come with a huge price tag. The focus and conclusions of the report also provides a chance for other agencies to proactively assess their internal plans and capabilities prior to an incident related to their specific responsibilities.

The decision-making process within the U.S. Capitol has been under the microscope since Jan. 6. Specifically, the existence of an antiquated and bureaucratic decision-making body known as the Capitol Police Board which includes the House and Senate sergeant-at-arms, the USCP chief and the Architect of the Capitol. The task force review was correct to zero in on this area as no one person had ultimate decision-making authority on Jan. 6. While the task force concluded that the chief of the USCP should have decision making authority during emergencies, they recommended further independent review to determine the Board’s feasibility and need to exist. If this is not addressed properly and finally fixed, problems will continue for the agency, no matter how much money is thrown at the USCP.

Unfortunately, the National Guard was also caught up in politics and like the USCP, had many questioning their decision-making process, which ultimately delayed the Guard’s response to the Capitol to assist the USCP. On Jan. 6, the commanding general did not have ultimate authority to send the Guard to the U.S. Capitol, instead requiring approval by the Pentagon. During the violence this summer at George Floyd protests, however, he did have the authority to send the Guard. The task force agreed that the commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard must maintain “emergency authority” under DoD directive 3025.18 during spontaneous situations of large-scale civil unrest, to prevent the loss of life or wanton destruction and to restore order.

On the heels of testimony last week by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Defense about what was exactly known and if intelligence was shared prior to and on Jan. 6, the report concludes that “the USCP is not postured to track, assess, plan against, or respond to the large volume of threats due to significant capacity shortfalls, inadequate training, immature processes, and an operating culture that is not intelligence driven.” This is an obvious concern and is illustrated by a Jan. 5 FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force report with “raw” information indicating violence against the U.S. Capitol and members of Congress never making its way to senior leadership, including the Chief of USCP. 

Further, had the intelligence been shared with those needing the information, the report leads the reader to the conclusion that the necessary internal intelligence staffing and processes were not in place anyway to properly assess the information to drive effective protective changes. Intelligence program recommendations within the report include “development of intelligence processes, hiring and training of analysts, analytic tools and appropriate classified workspaces.” 

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Physical security upgrades are also needed and not surprisingly are part of the recommendations made by the task force. Quickly deployed mobile fencing, enhanced windows and doors are just some examples along with other infrastructure improvements. As cited, changes including a fully integrated security system consisting of access control, barriers, cameras, sensors, locks, alarms, etc., are also needed to replace the disparate systems currently in place.

Should the USCP have special operations teams like a quick reaction force and K9 teams on the Capitol grounds at all times as recommended in the report? You bet!  Does the National Capital Region need an integrated security plan for federal, state and local agencies, including a quick reaction force for the National Capital Region under the D.C. National Guard? Yes, long overdue!

The USCP must also create a robust protective services division for members of Congress. “Security for members of Congress is currently inefficient and inconsistent,” the report finds. Recommendations for the establishment of new travel and home district security programs is necessary in today’s threat environment and must be staffed and equipped accordingly.

The majority of recommendations made by the task force require one essential category to succeed — human capital. The USCP are about 300 officers short and incur massive amounts of overtime. This means a workforce of untrained and exhausted employees. If all recommendations are followed, the USCP will realistically require closer to 1,000 additional officers. Hiring and training takes time, even more so when attrition is taken into account. 

While the task force took great effort to acknowledge and consider the delicate balance of public access and security, they realistically recognize that politics and budget will likely come into play regarding final decisions on their recommendations. The task force report is thorough and is a great start in recognizing deficiencies and offering solutions, thereby getting the USCP to the level expected of a premier law enforcement agency. 

Congress can make no greater investment in protecting this country’s premier symbol of democracy and the USCP officers who protect it — and them. They should move urgently to adequately fund, staff and equip the agency.   

Charles Marino is the CEO of Sentinel Security Solutions, a global security and crisis management firm, and previously served as a supervisory special agent with the U.S. Secret Service and as senior law enforcement adviser to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. He regularly appears as a homeland and national security analyst on cable news networks.