A horrifying sense of deja vu accompanied Friday’s attack at the Capitol in which William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force, was killed and another officer injured after a man rammed a car into a barricade outside the Capitol. “Like, not again,” said Capitol Hill resident Josh Martin, recounting how thoughts of Jan. 6 sprang to mind with the first reports Friday of an attack on the Capitol. Unlike that day, when thousands of supporters of former president Donald Trump breached the Capitol in an effort to stop certification of the presidential election, Friday’s attack has not been categorized as an act of domestic terrorism. Early evidence, according to an anonymous senior law enforcement official quoted by the New York Times, suggests the lone assailant, who was fatally shot after lunging at police with a knife, acted out of a combination of underlying mental health issues and a connection to ideology that provided justification to commit violence.
Friday’s attack was nonetheless a reminder of the Capitol as a target and the tragic toll taken on those who guard it. Officer Evans, 41, a father of two, was remembered as someone who loved his job and his family. “He was so proud to be a U.S. Capitol Police officer. He carried his badge everywhere. He was just so proud, and his family was so proud of him,” said one long-time friend. His death — so soon after that of Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died of injuries after engaging with Jan. 6 rioters, and that of Officer Howard Liebengood, who died by suicide three days after the insurrection — has left Capitol police reeling and, the Associated Press reported, further into a crisis of morale and force numbers. Union officials complain about depleted personnel power that forces officers to work massive amounts of overtime, and say many officers are looking for jobs elsewhere or contemplating retirement.
The nature of the Capitol Police is unlike any in the country in that they perform mostly security functions and not traditional policing. The events of Jan. 6 were transformative, and it is clear that changes are needed in how the agency operates. A search is underway for a permanent chief to replace Steven Sund, who was forced to resign after the insurrection, and it is important that someone be found who can address internal issues, such as strengthening training, and external issues of a muddled chain of command that includes the House and Senate sergeants of arms and congressional leadership. Congress needs to do its part, so it is encouraging that a bill is in the works that would provide money for security improvements and include reforms to the police board that governs this critical agency.