WASHINGTON — The U.S. Capitol Police chief told Congress on Wednesday that while much more work needs to be done, the agency has made “significant improvements” to protect the building in the year since a pro-Trump mob violently clashed with its officers and desecrated the halls of Congress.
“January 6 exposed critical deficiencies with operational planning, intelligence, staffing, and equipment,” Chief J. Tom Manger said in a prepared statement to members of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. “I’m pleased to report that we have addressed a significant portion of the many recommendations issued to the department.”
Lawmakers are examining the events of last year’s attack and keeping pressure on the agency, which is responsible for protecting the Capitol. The Rules Committee issued a bipartisan report with the Senate Homeland Security Committee in June that made recommendations for major reforms by the Capitol Police, from improving training and communication to overhauling intelligence gathering.
Manger told senators Wednesday that the agency “has implemented — or is in the process of implementing — each and every one of them.”
The chief said, for example, that the department is in the final stages of selecting a director of intelligence for the Capitol Police and expects to name the person in the next couple of weeks.
Manger also confirmed that the department is about 400 officers short of what it needs and plans to hire more than 280 police officers in the current fiscal year and that many annually over the next three years.
The force is also considering hiring contracted security officers to assist at certain locations where armed officers aren’t needed, Manger said. He added that takes about a year to train new officers so that they’re available to deploy, while other officers with the necessary prior experience can deploy immediately.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, asked Manger what the consequences would be if Congress fails to pass a legislative package to provide new funding for the current year. Currently, the federal government is operating under a short-term spending measure that runs through mid-February.
“I think the biggest impact would be our inability to increase our staffing, which is so critical,” Manger said. “All we would be able to do is just replace the people that left. We can’t, we can’t survive and continue. We have to increase our staffing.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined the hearing to deliver an opening statement, in which he said Jan. 6 was “not merely a senseless act of mob violence that sprung up spontaneously.”
“Make no mistake, the root cause of January 6 is still with us today,” Schumer said. “It is the big lie pushed by Donald Trump that is undermining faith in our political system and making our democracy, our country less safe.”
In her opening statement, the committee’s chairwoman, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said protecting the freedom to vote is as “crucial as ever” as states pass restrictive laws because that doubts about the integrity of elections was “clearly related to what happened on Jan. 6.”
Klobuchar said Congress received more than 9,000 threats in 2021. Manger addressed the point later, saying the department needs to “expand and enhance our ability” to investigate those threats, provide protection for lawmakers and to enhance security in their home districts.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a member of the committee who was among 147 Republicans in Congress who voted on Jan. 6 to overturn Biden’s victory, said Wednesday that the riot that day was a “terrorist attack.” He said that “anyone who commits an actual act of violence should be prosecuted, and anyone who assaults a law enforcement officer should go to jail for a very long time. And I think that’s a principle that is true, regardless of the politics of the violent criminal, whether they are right wing, left wing or they got no wings at all.”
Bolton said that “out of 200 security enhancements the department provided to the inspector general, only 61 of those items have supporting documentation to support that those enhancements have occurred.” He also said the agency had implemented only 30 of the more than 100 recommendations made by his office.
Manger, who took over as chief after the Jan. 6 riot, told Congress that as of Wednesday, the department has addressed “over 90” of the 103 recommendations issued by Bolton’s office. In his prepared remarks, Manger also said the department is hiring a full-time director for intelligence, one of Bolton’s recommendations.
Congress and President Joe Biden recently gave the Capitol Police chief the authority to directly ask the National Guard and federal law enforcement agencies for help in emergencies. Biden signed a bill last month streamlining the previous process, which slowed law enforcement’s response to the Jan. 6 riot.
Before the new law, the Capitol Police chief needed approval to request help from the Capitol Police Board, a four-member panel that includes the architect of the Senate and the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms. The new authority was one of the recommendations the two Senate committees put forth in June.
The Capitol Police Board released a report Tuesday highlighting progress in areas like upgraded equipment for officers, such as tactical gear.
“Based on the above security enhancements, and those that are on-going, we are confident that the Capitol complex is more secure today than prior to January 6, 2021,” the board said in the report. “In addition, the changes and improvements made by the USCP transformed the USCP into a better prepared law enforcement agency. However, we cannot afford to be complacent.”
Top Democrats applauded the improvements.
“Today’s report shows continued progress in this vital mission,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who heads the Administration Committee, praised the steps taken in “operational planning and interagency coordination, intelligence gathering and assessment, training and equipment.”
But Manger is not embracing all of the recommendations Congress put forth. He is expected to reject the idea of making the agency’s Civil Disturbance Unit, which is trained to respond to protests and other demonstrations, a permanent part of the agency.
“Given our current vacancies, budget, and the mission needs of other Department components, this is something we cannot accomplish in the near term,” he says in Wednesday’s prepared remarks.
In both his opening statement and the Capitol Police Board’s report, Manger noted “enhancements” to the Civil Disturbance Unit, such as expanding staffing and training.
Source: This post first appeared on NBC News