The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Capitol Police must make major cultural shift to confront rising threats, inspector general says

The U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Samuel Corum/AFP/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton told House lawmakers Monday that the agency must begin to think of itself as a “protective agency” if it is to prevent future attacks on Congress like the one pro-Trump rioters carried out Jan. 6.

Under questioning from Democrats on the House Administration Committee, Bolton recalled how the Capitol Police presence was suddenly depleted during the insurrection when officers scrambled to respond to reports of pipe bombs near the offices of the Democratic and Republican National Committees, just off the U.S. Capitol campus.

“Invariably, when there’s an incident, police officers swarm. When you’re in protective mode, you have an area of responsibility,” Bolton explained, noting that a better approach for the Capitol Police would have been to establish a perimeter without diverting forces, instead allowing FBI agents or D.C. police to handle the investigative work off campus. Doing so, he estimated, would have doubled the number of units available to protect the Capitol as the crowd of thousands amassed outside.

“If those pipe bombs were intended to be a diversion, it worked,” Bolton said.

Police radio communications synchronized with hours of footage show how failures of planning and preparation left police at the Capitol severely disadvantaged. (Video: The Washington Post)

Capitol Police, taking heat for Jan. 6, challenges Congress to pay for fixes

Bolton told lawmakers Monday that the force needs additional resources, including a stand-alone countersurveillance unit, to adequately address a growing number of threats to the U.S. Capitol and those who work there. According to the Capitol Police, there has been a 107 percent increase in such threats in 2021 compared to 2020. Bolton said Monday that the force’s caseload has been steadily increasing since 2017.

He also faulted outdated guidance and seemingly garbled orders for adding to the sense of chaos on Jan. 6 and the agency’s flailing response as rioters forced their way into the building. He said command and control issues are expected to be the focus of his next interim report, which he estimated would be completed in June, but lawmakers pressed him on such questions nonetheless.

Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) read to Bolton from a Capitol Police timeline, which she said indicated that a group of about 200 members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence, were allowed to roam the Capitol on the morning of Jan. 6 while officers were sent to monitor just “three or four” counterdemonstrators. Federal prosecutors have charged several Proud Boys members in connection with the Capitol riot, including those suspected of leading the stampede that overwhelmed police.

“Who is responsible for deploying department personnel to monitor three or four counterdemonstrators but not the 200 Proud Boys?” Lofgren asked Boltonthe inspector general.

Trump’s grip on GOP looms as support falters for independent probe of Capitol riot

Bolton said he had concerns about the discrepancy — and about the veracity of the Capitol Police’s timeline.

Lofgren also cited the statement a Capitol Police officer recently gave to the force’s Office of Professional Responsibility, to emphasize her point about how the directions given to officers seemed confusing and discordant.

During a previous hearing with Bolton, Lofgren shared that the officer, who is with the Capitol Police Civil Disturbance Unit, testified that a Jan. 6 radio order instructed personnel to look not for pro-Trump rioters, but any “anti-pro-Trump” counterdemonstrator “who wants to start a fight.” The Capitol Police objected to Lofgren’s initial characterization of the officer’s statement.

Lofgren on Monday quoted the officer at greater length, saying: “I convinced myself that perhaps the mission had changed . . . and the threat was not a high-level threat because of the radio call . . . I automatically realized that there was a disconnect or a miscommunication about the event that is occurring.”

“And that’s the point,” Lofgren concluded, in her own words.

Inspector general says police order to hold back riot-control weapons compromised Capitol on Jan. 6

Much responsibility for enabling improvements will fall to lawmakers, whom Capitol Police leaders have directly challenged to put up the funds necessary to pay for the sweeping cultural, training and staffing changes that Bolton and other outside investigators have recommended.

Congress is expected to pass a supplemental authorization package to pay for some of the recommended upgrades, but the details of such a bill have not been finalized. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) indicated last week that she intended to ready a Capitol security funding bill for a floor vote this month. The Democratic-led House’s proposal is expected to clock in at about $2 billion, and it is unclear how much Republican support it may have.

But even with more funding, it is unclear how swiftly any changes will be able to take place. Earlier this year, a task force led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré suggested the Capitol Police need to bring on almost 1,000 new officers to meet the demands of protecting the Capitol and a growing caseload of threats against lawmakers. Such a dramatic expansion would likely take many months, if not years, to complete.

Lawmakers also expressed concern Monday that other agencies will have to step up their efforts to support the Capitol Police.

Rep. Rodney Davis (Ill.), the House Administration Committee’s ranking Republican, pointed out that while threats against Congress are increasing, arrests and prosecutions of suspected perpetrators are not.

“I’m very troubled by these disproportionate numbers,” he told Bolton.

The inspector general suggested that remedying that mismatch “may be more of a resource issue for the Department of Justice.”

Bolton also told Davis that the Capitol Police are opening regional offices in San Francisco and Miami to help protect members in the field, with plans for three other locations yet to be determined. He suggested those regional offices might help encourage federal prosecutors around the country be more aggressive about pursuing people behind threats to members of Congress.