After seeing one of their colleagues killed last Wednesday, Capitol Police officers are angry that Republican members of Congress refuse to submit to the security changes put in place since then, and say they wouldn’t even be surprised if some lawmakers helped organize the attack.
Officers told BuzzFeed News that members of Congress often see security as optional. Even after last week’s deadly attack, some Republican members refused to go through metal detectors, pushing their way past Capitol Police officers.
“Officers are fuming and there are mumbles of several walking off the job,” one officer with more than 10 years on the force told BuzzFeed News — just as Republicans took to the floor last night to rail against even basic security measures. At one point today, officers set up tables around the metal detectors in an effort to block Republicans from just walking by them.
One of the officers said it’s not unusual for members of Congress to bring dozens of people at once and insist that visitors be waved past security. Officers’ concerns were echoed by some Democrats who have been speaking out about the state of security at the Capitol, and the potential involvement of members in the planning of the insurrection.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill has alleged that some of her Republican colleagues led “reconnaissance” tours of the building ahead of the attack, though did not provide evidence to back up that claim. Rep. Val Demings, former chief of the Orlando Police Department, told CNN, “If any members of Congress participated, helped to organize, orchestrate … they need to be held accountable.”
Two of the officers who spoke to BuzzFeed News said it wouldn’t surprise them if lawmakers had been involved. “There are definitely some members who need to be held to account once an investigation shows the totality of circumstances,” one said, in a sign of how betrayed some officers feel in the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol.
“Let’s be very clear, we are here for Congress,” a veteran officer said. “We are the buffer, so that Congress doesn’t have to deal with the mess that they create in their respective districts, so they don’t have to deal with the public. That’s primarily what our mission is — police work is kind of a second thought.”
Capitol Police officers also said they had lost faith in management following last week’s attack. Last weekend, two officers described scenes of chaos at the Capitol during Wednesday’s attack and the racism they faced. This prompted a third officer to open up about the dismal mood in the department, their lack of trust in leadership, and doubts that anything will really change.
“There would be a vote of no confidence in management right now if one took place,” said the officer, who has nearly two decades on the force. “There’s a collective anger right now, and there’s a ‘them and us’ mentality with management. It’s not good.” The Capitol Police did not respond to a series of requests from BuzzFeed News for comment.
The officers say the department seems better prepared for potential attacks between now and the inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20. They said they have been told there will be at least 14,000 national guard members on hand to help keep the peace. Early this morning, management circulated a six-page intelligence assessment to officers outlining several events that they think have the potential to turn violent, they said.
But while officers say they hope to be better prepared for future attacks, they are still grappling with the toll that last week’s siege exacted on them and their colleagues. The third officer described how close they had been to opening fire on the mob: After nearly two decades on the force, the officer said, “I’ve never, ever, ever had physically or mentally been in a place where I’ve felt the need to use my weapon, and I was about five seconds from doing it on that day. I felt legitimate concern for my safety and the safety of the other few officers that were around me because to say we were outnumbered is a gross understatement.”
The three officers, who spoke with BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, lay ultimate blame for what happened on Jan. 6 at the feet of their managers, who they said appeared utterly blindsided by the attack, despite weeks of open planning by the conspirators online. All three officers said their managers put them in an impossible situation on that day.
“I’m raging. I was involved in the fray and thankfully I wasn’t too severely injured, but I have a coworker who was hit in the back with a pipe, he’s been out since Wednesday,” the third officer said. “I have another coworker that was knocked out cold. We just had an officer commit suicide, and [Officer Brian] Sicknick died. All of this stuff happened and if [management] would have taken appropriate actions, I think that it would have mitigated the situation exponentially.”
The veteran officer said they were so outnumbered and unprepared that at times he had to stand by helpless as colleagues were viciously attacked. “We came to this door and they were like five or six officers on the other side,” they said. “And it was very heart-wrenching for me because there was nothing that we could do for them. There were literally hundreds, thousands of people on the other side of this door and [the officers are] literally [pinned] against the wall, but we can’t open the door because if we opened the door, they’re going to get crushed and these people are going to pretty much take over.”
All three officers say that few provisions were made ahead of last Wednesday’s insurrection to prevent officers from being completely overrun. Usually, on a day when police leaders are expecting a big protest or riot, they’d organize a roll call, where they’d inform officers of the perceived threats and give them information about what to expect. The three officers said no such meeting occurred on Wednesday morning. Each of the officers separately pointed out that management didn’t even take “simple measures” ahead of the attack like building a temporary barrier around the Capitol ahead of time.
One officer talked about how infuriating it was to see workers putting up barriers only after the attack had taken place.
“At 3 in the morning, when we finally got a chance to leave after the demonstration, they had the people coming in to put up those 8 feet barriers that they have now,” one officer said. “Twelve to 14 hours later, they have most of this thing up — it took them 12 hours to get that shit up. And you couldn’t have done it beforehand from all the warnings that these people told them. They knew the group was coming. They knew the group was coming.”
Leadership was totally absent that day, they added.
“The people above, I have no respect for them,” they said. “I personally didn’t hear any radio calls from any [senior officials]. I mean, nothing.” Chief Steven Sund, the officers say, was not heard on the radio once that day.
With approximately 2,000 employees and a $515 million budget, the agency, the officers say, had tools at its disposal to prevent the attack on the Capitol — the money, the intelligence suggesting Trump’s supporters could get violent, and a chief with extensive expertise in policing protests and large events. Sund, who has since resigned, was previously a commander of the Washington, DC, Police Department’s Special Operations Division. Among his responsibilities was overseeing “civil disturbance units,” specialized units that respond to mass protests. As a commander, he also served as a lead planner for the 2009 and 2013 presidential inaugurations.
The agency is overseen by Congress itself. Its oversight board comprises the chief, the architect of the Capitol, and both sergeants at arms for the House and the Senate.
“We have a whole intel section,” one officer said. “There were plenty of indicators that this was going to be way more than the routine … this is a situation our intelligence apparatus either dropped the ball or [management] just said they didn’t care.”
Two of the officers, both of them Black, specifically compared last Wednesday’s attack with how management handled the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, and said that the contrast is stark.
“This summer, when we had the BLM protest, it was all hands on deck,” one officer said. “I mean we had an abundance of bodies and support … the amount of people that they had available was astounding. They were pretty much working us to the ground … on [Wednesday], there was none of that.”
“Let me just say this: If the same posture was taken Wednesday, that was taken the summer, with the BLM protests, it would have been totally different,” he added. “I think [last Wednesday] was the result of a mixture of arrogance and incompetence, but I also think a group of Black people and brown people are a lot scarier to [management] than a group of white people. I don’t want to say that, but that’s just me being as objective as I can be.”
According to one officer, the force is “male dominated” and “white dominated,” adding that “minority officers aren’t treated the same.”
The officers said the incompetence on display last Wednesday wasn’t an aberration, but instead the result of years of mismanagement by the agency’s leadership — and by extension their ultimate bosses, the 535 members of the Congress. Officers describe an environment where they are frequently disrespected by members of Congress and treated more like security guards or even personal security detail than as sworn police officers.
Each of the officers said the department needs a complete overhaul of its culture, but one predicted Congress would simply throw money at the problem rather than enact real change.
“I think that we will probably get a 20% increase in our budget, because it came to Congress’s doorstep and when things touch them, they pretty much just write a check and say whatever you need is what you get,” said one officer. “There has to be a complete and utter rehaul of the culture, but people are resistant to that in every shape or form.”
“You can’t throw money at culture,” he added. The veteran officer thinks that transparency, not money, is the answer.
“We don’t have to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. How can you not be transparent? That’s just mind-boggling,” they said. Because the Capitol Police force reports to Congress, which is not subject to freedom of information laws, it is hard to know what is really going on. “[Transparency] would improve this department on every level. We’re paid by the taxpayers — they should be able to access anything that goes on within this department within reason.”
In addition to Sund, both the House and the Senate sergeants at arms quit. This is a welcome move among the officers who spoke to BuzzFeed News; one of them said, “The sergeant of arms is full of shit.”
Another said the only reason there has been any accountability for leadership is because the attack was such a national event.
“I think letting them resign is letting them off easy,” said the veteran who has been with the department for nearly 20 years. “A lot of people got hurt that didn’t have to be hurt. Simple measures could have been put in place to mitigate this.”
The officer said: “I have too many coworkers and friends that are out right now and it’s not right … It’s not a case of, OK, this was an unfortunate situation, people didn’t do their jobs and they put us in a situation where we were set up to fail. It’s not right. Sicknick was a good dude, and he didn’t deserve [to die].” ●
Kendall Taggart contributed reporting to this article.