April 11, 2021

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‘Can’t wait for Jesus to come fix this’: New Capitol attack reveals ongoing security gaps, depleted police force

3 min read

By most accounts law enforcement’s reaction to Friday’s vehicle attack at the Capitol was swift.

Within minutes of the first reports of gunfire, local and federal officers swarmed to the scene.

 A U.S. Park Police helicopter, in a dramatic show of force, hovered over the Capitol’s north side.

Yet, when the latest assault was ultimately repelled, leaving one officer and a 25-year-old suspect dead, the familiar and increasingly glaring questions about the readiness of a traumatized U.S. Capitol Police force remained.

A laundry list of needs, laid bare in a recent review of the department following the Jan. 6 attack – in which a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, killing USCP Officer Brian Sicknick and injuring nearly 140 other officers – was highlighted by a call to fill more than 200 vacant positions within a wheezing force in need of hundreds more, along with a revamped training program and intelligence gathering system.

While a search continues for a permanent leader for the force, Congress has yet to act on the sweeping security recommendations delivered last month by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore who said that some lawmakers were not moving with the necessary urgency to bolster the Capitol’s defenses, declaring that the seat of American democracy remained a vulnerable target.

More:Officer William Evans, killed in Friday’s attack at Capitol, described as ‘wonderful guy’

More:Friday’s attack is the latest violence at the US Capitol, the site of shootings, bombings and riots over the last 50 years

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, left, and Lt. Gen. Russell Honore march during a Jazz funeral procession dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, on Aug. 29, 2006 in New Orleans.

“They (lawmakers) have got to recognize that the Capitol is not just a target sometimes; it’s a target all the time,” Honore told USA TODAY Saturday. “The Capitol is a target because it is the center of power in this country, and it needs to be protected like the gold in Fort Knox.

“That is the message we’ve got to get to lawmakers. We can’t wait for Jesus to come fix this,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tasked Honore to lead the security review. But lawmakers continue to debate recommended upgrades as they balance increased security against the interests in keeping the Capitol campus open and accessible to the public.

The 15-page report recommended hiring 854 more Capitol police officers for the force of about 2,000 to reduce staggering overtime costs while bolstering the agency’s intelligence analysis functions. It also stressed the need for training for future demonstrations.

Read:Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré’s full security recommendations for the Capitol after the Jan. 6 riot

More:Capitol fence remains contentious 2 months after riot. What we know about the barrier

“This is a department under stress, operating with last-century equipment and resources,” Honore said Saturday. “They need resources.”

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that decides spending for the Capitol, told reporters Friday he wants to add nearly 1,000 Capitol Police officers. But he said security must be reconsidered after the latest attack, and any decisions must be bipartisan.

“I think everything’s going to be reevaluated after today,” Ryan said. “This is about the security of the nation’s Capitol, that’s the temple of democracy. We’ve got to make sure that it is secure.”

Another recommendation from the Honore task force was to create a quick reaction force of the National Guard, to remain permanently for faster response to emergencies like the Jan. 6 riot. More than 2,200 troops remain stationed at the Capitol, which some lawmakers have questioned.

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman Friday noted the continuing Guard presence as a welcomed asset to the current security force.

More:1 officer killed, another hospitalized after man drives car into barrier near US Capitol. Suspect dead.

“We are very thankful for our National Guard partnership,” Pittman said. “We do have National Guard on the campus, but the security posture at this time remains the same.” 

The task force recommendation envisioned that the National Guard troops would supplement the strained Capitol Police and serve in the quick reaction force on three- to six-month rotations under the D.C. National Guard.

“Another option would be to create a QRF that permanently resides within the D.C. Guard by reestablishing a military police battalion and staffing it with Active Guard Reserve troops who live in or near the city year-round, perpetually on active duty,” the report said.

But key lawmakers have resisted a permanent National Guard assignment. The top Republicans on five Senate committees have questioned the justification for keeping 2,280 National Guard troops stationed at the Capitol through May 23 and suggested the security posture is “disproportionate to the available intelligence.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said earlier this month that stationing troops at the Capitol for another two months was “outrageous” because it wasn’t their mission.

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, left, stands next to Monique Moore, right, in 2012 when they were promoted as the first two African-American women to rank of captain on the U.S. Capitol Police force.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters March 10 that security was “overdone” after the Jan. 6 riot.

“Do we need some changes?” McConnell asked. “We probably do, but I think we are continuing to overreact based on current threat levels of what is needed here at the Capitol. It looks terrible to have the beacon of our democracy surrounded by razor wire and National Guard troops.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Saturday the attack on Capitol police officers added to the need to address security in a comprehensive way.

“Senate Committees are already conducting bipartisan and extensive reviews to ensure the Capitol is as secure as possible while also remaining accessible to the public,” Schumer said. “We are fully committed to ensuring the Capitol is safe for visitors and all who work here.”

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Saturday the focus should be on the officers who were lost, wounded and impacted.

“There will be time to examine staffing levels and related security issues, but right now we’re just focused on supporting our officers and their families,” said Reed, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that determines Capitol police spending and serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Terrance Gainer, a former Capitol police chief who served on Honore’s task force, said the agency’s officers “want to see the actions and changes that should grow out of Jan. 6.”

“I hope they (lawmakers) haven’t forgotten that all of the recommendations need to be acted on,” Gainer said.

The latest attack and the resulting loss also have struck a personal chord with the former chief.

Gainer headed the department when Officer William Evans, who was killed in Friday’s assault, began his career 18 years ago.

“My interaction with him was always positive and welcoming; he always had this big smile on his face,” Gainer said, adding that he recently learned that the officer was “working through some guilt,” as he was not assigned to the Jan. 6 response.

“A lot of officers are still struggling, grappling with guilt and psychological trauma,” Gainer said.  

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