There's a reckoning coming for the congressional police force that allowed the worst breach of the US Capitol since the British burned the building down in 1814January 7, 2021
- The US Capitol Police is facing a backlash after violent mobs supporting President Donald Trump forced their way past security while lawmakers inside were debating the 2020 Electoral College results.
- Key Democratic leaders are demanding resignations from top officials because of the riots while both parties are promising investigations into the historic security breakdown.
- At the center of the controversy is a police force that dates back to 1828, when "Capitol watchmen" patrolled the grounds. Since then, the force has gotten much bigger and more professional.
- The force tries to walk a fine line between protecting Congress and the public and keeping the doors of the Capitol open for visitors to see democracy in action.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
A reckoning is coming for the police force that guards Congress after President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the US Capitol in the worst attack on the historic building since British soldiers burned it down in 1814.
Congressional leaders, law enforcement officials and the public watched in horror as violent mobs disputing the results of the 2020 presidential election forced their way on Wednesday past unprepared US Capitol Police officers while frightened lawmakers, staff, and reporters took cover.
Their mistakes played out on live television and social media, helping to fuel outrage and calls for significant shake ups from the very members of Congress they're assigned to protect. In one video posted online, a Capitol Police officer appears to be posing for a selfie with a rioter who entered the building. Another shows a single officer backing away from a large group advancing toward the Senate chamber while picking up a billy club to try to defend himself.
In the aftermath of Wednesday's melee, there's plenty of blame going around Washington about what went wrong and who's responsible for a riot that left five people dead, including a Trump-supporting Air Force veteran shot by a police officer mere steps from the House floor. Top lawmakers are calling for resignations and launching investigations into the breakdown. Washington insiders say to expect dramatic changes to security at the US Capitol and the police force that protects it.
"You can't even come into the Capitol with a purse, without it being screened. How can you break into the Capitol and walk around with flagpoles?" said California Democrat Rep. Karen Bass on CNN.
Heads are already rolling.
House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving informed Speaker Nancy Pelosi he would resign in the wake of the breach, Pelosi told reporters Thursday. Irving is one of four members who serve on the board that oversees the Capitol Police.
Pelosi also called for the resignation of Steven Sund, the chief of the Capitol Police. Sund issued a statement on Thursday defending the police force and their law enforcement partners, saying they "responded valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions as they stormed the United States Capitol Building."
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would fire the Senate's Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger if he hasn't resigned by the time Democrats officially take the majority in the coming days upon the seating of two new senators from Georgia. Stenger is also on the board that oversees the Capitol Police, along with Sund and Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton.
The 'Capitol watchmen'
The Capitol Police force dates back to 1828, when four "Capitol watchmen" were given the authority to enforce the law at the Capitol and its grounds. The agency now employs more than 2,300 officers and civilian employees and has an annual budget of about $460 million.
They've become more professional and better trained in recent decades. Back in the 1960s, the force was largely made up of part-time police officers, some of whom were also students working for members of Congress, said former Senate Historian Donald Ritchie. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who went on to be the Senate Majority Leader, worked as a Capitol Police officer while he was putting himself through law school.
The 1968 riots in Washington following the assassination of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. served as a wakeup call for the force, Ritchie said. "Smoke could be seen from the Capitol," but most of the Capitol Police force didn't show up for work the next day. "That was the signal to the leadership that they couldn't depend on a part-time student-based police force," he added.
The Capitol has been the site of violent attacks before. In 1954, members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party opened fire onto the House floor, wounding five congressmen. The group Weather Underground took credit for a 1971 bomb that exploded in the US Capitol. Another bomb was set off in the Capitol in 1983.
On Sept. 11, 2001, when Capitol staff were told to evacuate the building amid fears a hijacked commercial airplane was headed into Washington DC airspace, Ritchie recalls walking past the police officer who was there every day. "He was guarding the building. We were fleeing from the building," Ritchie said. "They put themselves in jeopardy all the time."
Indeed, officers do everything from the mundane — like putting visitors' bags through metal detectors and scolding visitors who touch historical paintings — to forcibly ousting protesters who interrupt congressional hearings or barge into lawmakers' offices.
"We proudly protect the legislative process, the symbol of our democracy, the people who carry out the process, and the millions of visitors who travel here to see democracy in action each day," the force says on its website.
The force hires officers who are between the ages of 21 and 37 at the time of their appointment, according to the agency's website. They complete their training at the US Capitol Police Training Academy and the starting salary is $64,173.
'Catastrophic failure of operations'
Wednesday was a terrible day for the Capitol Police.
More than 50 Capitol Police and Washington Metropolitan Police were injured during Wednesday's attack, CNN reported. A Capitol Police officer shot a woman during the invasion who later died from the injury, according to a statement from Sund. That employee has been put on administrative leave pending an investigation.
Meanwhile, politicians, law enforcement experts and the public questioned the force's readiness and their response to the breach even as many of them blamed President Donald Trump for emboldening the mobs that overtook the Capitol.
"They're not supposed to get as far as they did. And someone needs to explain why that happened," former US Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer told WTOP.
"The fact that they appear to have been so ill-equipped, embarrassing is too polite a word. It's inexcusable," said Douglas Smith, who was assistant secretary for the US Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.
Either they were just "woefully unprepared," their leadership gave them the directive to let the rioters blow off steam, or they're "absolutely incompetent" almost 20 years after the Sept. 2001, terrorist attacks, Smith said.
"I don't even know where one begins at just what a catastrophic failure of operations we saw yesterday. Every possible thing that went wrong for them, it went wrong," he said.
Smith noted that the mobs felt empowered by Trump, who had urged his supporters earlier in the day to march to the Capitol to protest Biden's election.
"They were given a directive by their fearless leader to storm the Capitol," he said. "There better be some really hard questions asked — starting with the culpability of the president of the United States the way down to the leadership of the Capitol Hill police."
Lawmakers are promising just that.
"I will assure every American that the appropriate people will be held accountable, because this was an embarrassment. And it was unacceptable," Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan told reporters on Thursday. Ryan leads the House panel that oversees funding for the Capitol Police.
"Why were they overwhelmed?" Bass said on CNN. "Everyone knew this was going to happen. Why weren't they tracking social media? Why frankly, were the protesters, rioters terrorists, why weren't they infiltrated? Why wasn't there undercover police officers that were there? This is the kind of thing that happens at other types of street protests."
Several lawmakers with oversight authority of the Capitol Police called for investigations into the failure, but did not yet name specific steps. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the California Democrat who heads a House committee that oversees the chamber's administrative work, said in a statement that she would "work with the bipartisan House and Senate leadership to address these concerns and review the response in coming days."
Republicans are calling for more oversight, too. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell demanded that "a painstaking investigation and thorough review must now take place and significant changes must follow" the Trump-fueled riot at the Capitol.
Source: Read Full Article