Wednesday, June 23, 2021

in-focus

Police order to hold back riot-control weapons compromised Capitol, inspector general tells House panel


WASHINGTON - An order to hold back heavy riot-control weapons left Capitol Police at a grave disadvantage as front-line officers, vastly outnumbered, fought to protect Congress from a violent mob Jan. 6, the force's inspector general told lawmakers Thursday, as he urged an overhaul of campus security.

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Inspector General Michael Bolton told the House Administration Committee that a deputy assistant chief of police instructed officers not to use the weapons - including stingballs and 40mm launchers - out of concern that "they could potentially cause life-altering injury and/or death, if they were misused in any way." Bolton did not identify the chief, but he said that had officers employed such measures, "it certainly would have helped us that day to enhance our ability to protect the Capitol."

"The takeaway from that is, let's provide the training to our officers so they are used appropriately," Bolton said, later adding: "Training deficiencies put officers. . . in a position not to succeed."

More than a half-dozen congressional committees and one task force appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have opened inquiries into how law enforcement missed warning signals and failed to hold back the insurrection, during which thousands of President Donald Trump's supporters invaded the Capitol campus in a deadly but failed bid to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden's election win. But Bolton's investigation, projected to continue for several more months, is expected to produce the most comprehensive analysis of how inadequate training and intelligence-gathering and operational "deficiencies" allowed the Capitol's first line of defense to be overrun.

To date, the inspector general has produced two interim reports for Congress detailing investigators' preliminary findings, including that the force lacked the security clearances needed to properly assess warnings that the Capitol might come under attack. He also determined that the Capitol Police had incomplete records of the personnel and equipment on hand to respond to civil disturbances - and that many of the officers did not know how to use the crowd-control weapons at their disposal.

During Thursday's hearing, Bolton was emphatic that the Capitol Police would have to undertake sweeping procedural changes in order to be prepared for future threats to the Capitol and Congress. He also called for a "cultural change," arguing that the force must move away from the "traditional posture of a police department," and start acting instead like "a protection agency" focused not on responding to disturbances, but on preventing events like the Jan. 6 riot.

The hearing came as lawmakers are readying a supplemental spending package to pay for reforms and enhancements to campus security. Many are based on recommendations from former Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, whom Pelosi tasked earlier this year to conduct an evaluation. His team's draft report, released last month, recommended an expansion of the campus police force, and construction of mobile and retractable fencing around the Capitol to be deployed in emergencies.

Pelosi told reporters during a Thursday news conference that she had received a draft of the House Appropriations Committee's proposal to apportion funds for stepped-up security measures, including plans "to harden the windows, the doors and the rest."

But when the inspector general was asked Thursday where Congress should be spending its money, Bolton focused on a different answer: training.

"If you want to invest dollars, that's the place to invest it: training," he said, lamenting that for too long, police training had been treated as an afterthought to other measures.

Bolton specifically raised lapses in the department's Civil Disturbance Unit, or CDU, to highlight how a lack of training directly affected the Jan. 6 response. The Capitol Police CDUfunctions as "an ad hoc unit," he said, instead of a permanent force with specialized skills.

He called for Congress to adopt incentives to attract officers to the high-risk job, and to build a force that is prepared to respond to potentially riotous crowds and threats to the Capitol.

"To be truly effective, you have to have that continuous training," he testified. "They need to have a stand-alone unit, whatever size the department deems appropriate, and that's their full-time job."

Bolton also emphasized that improving the Capitol Police's capacity to gather, analyze and assess intelligence is vital for responding to future threats.

"We need an intelligence bureau, . . . a full-service, comprehensive bureau," he said. Bolton has also called for ensuring that civilians and officers tasked to intelligence-gathering operations obtain top-secret clearances, which not all employees currently have.

Bolton is not the first official to call for an overhaul of training, staffing, communications and intelligence operations. In recent weeks, Congress has heard about law enforcement failures and errors from the Capitol Police's former chief, Steven A. Sund, the current acting chief, Yogananda D. Pittman, and the former Senate and House sergeants at arms who resigned after the riot, Michael Stenger and Paul Irving, respectively.

 

None of those officials has yet spoken with the House Administration Committee - a fact Republicans criticized in their remarks Thursday.

"This is the first hearing that the chair has called on January 6, more than three months after the attack," said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the panel's ranking member, complaining that they had "skipped a step" by not having first called in officials who made the decisions leading up to Jan. 6.

Sund, the former police chief, has accused the two sergeants at arms of refusing his requests to call in the National Guard as a backup force before the riot. Under current rules, the police chief must seek permission from the Capitol Police Board, composed of the sergeants at arms and the Architect of the Capitol, before deploying additional resources in response to emergencies.

Davis insisted that any review of the Capitol Police that sidestepped scrutiny of the Board would be incomplete. Bolton answers to the Capitol Police board and does not have jurisdiction over them.

"I've said for a long time that an overhaul of the Board is needed," Davis said, complaining that the committee's probe was not satisfactorily bipartisan. He promised to release "a series of short reports" of his own.

The Administration Committee, made up of six Democrats and three Republicans, is one of at least five House panels that have launched probes into aspects of the Capitol riot, with still others examining questions surrounding forms of domestic extremism that were highlighted by the attack. But most of those inquiries have been slow to get underway.

Many lawmakers expected that such committee-level inquiries would quickly be overshadowed by an independent, 9/11-style commission, a concept that had seemed to have strong bipartisan support in the attack's immediate aftermath but now has stalled in the face of political disputes over the scope of its authority.

In the Senate, a joint investigation between the committees on Rules and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has made more headway, with a report documenting the failures that led to the mayhem on Jan. 6 expected to be completed next month, according to various aides familiar with its progress.

Published : April 16, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Karoun Demirjian