Inside the command center for the U.S. Capitol Police, a handful of officers were going through their routines early Friday morning, cycling through live feeds from the department’s 1,800 cameras used to monitor the nearby Capitol complex as well as some points beyond, when an officer stopped. On a screen showing a darkened street nearly 3,000 miles away, police lights were flashing outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), officials say.
The officer in D.C. quickly pulled up additional camera angles from around Pelosi’s home and began to backtrack, watching recordings from the minutes before San Francisco police arrived. There, on camera, was a man with a hammer, breaking a glass panel and entering the speaker’s home, according to three people familiar with how Capitol Police learned of the break-in and who have been briefed on or viewed the video themselves.
The 911 call and the struggle inside the home that followed have led to charges of attempted homicide of the speaker’s husband, and attempted kidnapping of the speaker, who is second in line to the presidency. The incident has also put a spotlight on the immensity — and perhaps the impossibility — of law enforcement’s task to protect the 535 members of Congress at a time of unprecedented numbers of threats against them.
If the Capitol Police were going to stop an attack at the home of any member of Congress, they had perhaps the best chance to do so at Pelosi’s, according to several current and former law enforcement officials, many of whom spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because the break-in remains under investigation.
The Capitol Police first installed cameras around Pelosi’s home more than eight years ago; she has an around-the-clock security detail; and for many months after the attacks of Jan. 6, 2021, a San Francisco police cruiser sat outside her home day and night. But hours after Pelosi left San Francisco last week and returned to D.C., much of the security left with her, and officers in Washington stopped continuously monitoring video feeds outside her house.
The targeted security and lack of full-time, active surveillance — even at the home of the member of Congress with the most death threats — reflect the competing demands facing local and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the balances that lawmakers, their families and security officials have tried to strike in the nearly two years since the attack on the Capitol.
The Capitol Police have been working to implement more than 100 security improvements recommended by outside experts, including enhancements to officer training, equipment, protocols and staffing. But the department has simultaneously faced a tenfold increase in threats to members of Congress, who regularly return to their home districts and crisscross the country.
In a statement Tuesday, Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said that while there have been improvements — for instance, the department is on track to hire 280 additional officers this year — the country’s “political climate” is going to necessitate “additional layers of physical security.”
Manger said the department would emphasize adding “redundancies” to the measures that are already in place for congressional leaders, but he would not describe those, saying they needed to remain confidential to be most effective.
Since the attack on Paul Pelosi, lawmakers have had informal conversations about including additional security measures in a government funding bill that must pass before mid-December. Manger’s statement Tuesday upped the ante, but House Democratic members and aides acknowledged that lawmakers probably will not craft proposals until after the midterm elections.
Threats to lawmakers are not rare but have dramatically increased in the past several years. Since 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president, threats of violence against lawmakers recorded by the Capitol Police have surged from roughly 900 cases in 2016 to 9,625 in 2021. Meanwhile, the share of threats that federal authorities pursue for criminal prosecution in the same period ranged from 7 percent to 17 percent of cases referred by the Capitol Police.
The Capitol Police twice instituted changes to member security — following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in 2011, and the 2017 shooting that targeted Republican lawmakers practicing for the yearly Congressional Baseball Game and gravely wounded then-House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La). After that shooting, lawmakers were allowed to spend up to $4,000 on installing security systems in their district offices back home.
In the months after Jan. 6, 2021, House Democrats repeatedly reminded leaders that their campaign coffers were not enough to pay for personal security or upgrades to their homes. Congress has, in turn, approved increases to office budgets for individual lawmakers — allowing them to pay for private security to assist them at events back home — and set aside nearly $5 million in a separate fund to allow for security upgrades to their personal residences.
Starting Aug. 15, lawmakers were given up to $10,000 for setting up security systems in their homes. Lawmakers have been told to work with security officials in the Capitol or with their local police to install devices such as indoor and outdoor security cameras; motion sensors; duress buttons; and window, door and broken-glass monitors.
Attack had lawmakers sharing security tips
On Monday morning, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.) heard from a friend who pleaded, “Don’t give out Halloween candy tonight.” The attack on Paul Pelosi rattled lawmakers on the Hill who had survived Jan. 6 and who had seen an escalation of physical confrontation between Republicans and Democrats since. But it also had friends and family worried for lawmakers’ safety, even at home.
After a threatening incident in her neighborhood weeks before the Jan. 6 attack, Escobar worked with the Capitol Police to secure her home. But it did not stop her children from expressing worry Friday that more was needed.
“It’s already a challenging job. It’s definitely a privilege and an honor, but there’s different considerations now to serve than ever before,” Escobar said. “I feel so much guilt that the work I do causes them to stress sometimes.”
The Pelosi attack caused a buzz on a group text among Democrats who were trapped in the House chamber on Jan. 6. Many were upset by the violence and were looking for solace. Members began trading tips on what they had done to secure their personal property, encouraging parents to post fewer pictures of their children on social media to decrease chances of identification, and sharing the discussions they have had with family in case an attack happens at their front door.
Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), who is in the middle of a tough reelection fight in a swing district, said Friday’s attack added stress to an already draining campaign season. With such focus on their campaigns, Wild said, there has been “no time to deal with upgrading our security” at home, on the trail or legislatively.
There is an understanding among some lawmakers that it would be fiscally impossible to protect all 535 members of Congress, since that would require boosting the already lagging Capitol Police force, paying those additional officers and coordinating with local police daily.
Manger’s “urgent” plea Tuesday to soothe the political climate runs into the reality that his police force is staffed far below the recommended levels to provide the kind of protection needed for lawmakers, both in Washington and across the country.
Manger said the Capitol Police are on track to meet their goal of hiring 280 more officers by the end of the year and to continue that pace next year. The department now has just over 1,900 officers, slightly more than it had on Jan. 6, but that’s a fraction of what it needs, according to some estimates. An external review ordered by Pelosi shortly after the January 2021 attack found that there were more than 230 vacancies in the two months after the insurrection and recommended that the Capitol Police eventually increase the size of its force by roughly 850 officers. That would take years, given that about 100 officers leave or retire each year, and the force is now accepting only about 1 in every 16 candidates.
The result is a police force already stretched incredibly thin, needing more staff to properly secure the nearly 60-acre Capitol campus and provide around-the-clock protection to the increasing number of lawmakers facing serious threats of violence. Congress jumped the Capitol Police budget from $516 million for 2021 to a recommended $708 million for 2023, according to the House Appropriations Committee.
After the midterm elections, lawmakers may debate how much more money is needed after Congress passed about $1 billion in emergency funding in the summer of 2021 to escalate security around the Capitol. Whether security is expanded to leadership’s family members at all times, or to their homes, is also likely to be debated, according to aides familiar with what could be discussed when members return.
Lawmakers have praised the Capitol Police for being accessible whenever they have asked for advice in recent years. In the days since the Paul Pelosi attack, senior congressional aides and Manger have reminded worried lawmakers about the resources available to them for their personal security at home and for their offices in their districts.
Rep. Rodney Davis (Ill.), the top-ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee and a survivor of the 2017 shooting, when asked whether more funding is necessary, said it’s incumbent upon leaders, more than ever, to alert members to what is available to them.
“Democrats need to work with the sergeant-at-arms office to immediately expedite security upgrades at homes of interested members,” he said. “I’ve witnessed political violence first hand, and security needs to be a priority for all members back home.”
Threats against Pelosi are unique
While other members of Congress may face episodic threats, Pelosi is the subject of the most violent death threats against any lawmaker, and their volume is both high and continuous, a law enforcement official said.
Police attribute the scale of the threats to her being demonized by Republicans, being a woman and being second in line to the presidency. She has a protective detail of two to three diplomatic security agents of the Capitol Police wherever she travels, including inside the Capitol, as well as a police officer who is a driver, the official said.
Ten members of House and Senate leadership receive full-time Capitol Police details when traveling, though Pelosi’s is the largest based on the comparatively high volume of continuous threats against her. Two more lawmakers currently have security details because of specific recent death threats.
The Capitol Police determine when lawmakers who are not in leadership or the line of succession get protection, based on the gravity of threats against them. It has become common over the years to see members on Capitol Hill with agents walking alongside them everywhere they go. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had personal security in 2017 after a death threat that came from Venezuela, while liberal targets like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) often appear with security.
Members of the Jan. 6 congressional investigative committee receive Capitol Police security protection when they are in Washington and protection from local law enforcement when they are in their home districts.
What concerns the Capitol Police is that threats against Pelosi have been unrelentingly high, and rose considerably after Trump took office in 2017.
When Pelosi is staying at her San Francisco residence, officers actively monitor the external camera feeds to ensure perimeter security, one official said. A former senior member of the Capitol Police said that cameras were installed simultaneously at the homes of congressional leaders many years ago, during the speakership of Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). The quality of the cameras has improved over the years, as well as the ability of Capitol Police to maintain a video archive of the footage.
But the threats against Pelosi have increased exponentially since then.
Security was ratcheted up for months after her home was vandalized with spray paint, fake blood and a pig’s head in the days before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Along with Pelosi’s residence, vandals also defaced the home of then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after Congress adjourned without passing a bill approving $2,000 stimulus checks.
Officials with the San Francisco Police Department repeatedly declined to comment on security measures around Pelosi’s house in the city’s posh Pacific Heights neighborhood, including whether there was an alarm system at the residence that would have triggered an alert with the department.
San Francisco police officials also are facing growing questions nationally and locally, including from Pelosi’s neighbors, about why there wasn’t a more consistent presence outside the speaker’s home, given the intensity of the threats that she and other lawmakers have faced as well as previous incidents at the residence. Since Friday, neighbors said, at least three San Francisco police squad cars have been positioned outside the residence, along with unmarked black SUVs and plain-clothed security officers — often signals that the speaker is at home.
Pelosi’s house is also protected by a private security system, two people said. When tripped, that alarm is supposed to notify San Francisco police and, secondarily, the Capitol Police, one of them added.
On Friday, the Capitol Police never received an alert from the home security company, that person added. It was unclear if the system was armed at the time of the break-in.
Officials with the San Francisco Police Department repeatedly declined to comment on whether there was an alarm system at the house and if the department received an alert about the break-in besides the 911 call.
Holly Bailey, Tom Jackman and Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report.