In the weeks since Trump supporters successfully breached the Capitol building, Capitol Police officers, lawmakers, and government watchdogs have been demanding more transparency from the Capitol Police — widely seen as the most secretive department in the country.
But new research provided to BuzzFeed News by Demand Progress, a progressive advocacy group, outlines how the department’s latest public report is even less transparent than those released in previous years. The study raises questions about what, if any, commitment department leaders have to instituting reforms in the wake of their failures during the Capitol insurrection.
Veteran officers told BuzzFeed News that leadership problems have plagued the agency for years — but it was only when their bosses were caught unprepared during the Jan. 6 attack that the top brass was no longer able to keep that dysfunction from public view.
“[Transparency] would improve this department on every level,” one officer told BuzzFeed News after the attack. “We’re paid by the taxpayers — they should be able to access anything that goes on within this department within reason.”
Unlike any other department in the country, the Capitol Police doesn’t have to comply with public information requests. That leaves the public largely in the dark about what is going on inside a department with a half-billion-dollar budget and over 2,000 employees. The only public-facing document the agency produces is its Annual Statistical Summary Report on Office of Professional Responsibility investigations. The agency does not provide the report online. According to the department’s website, requests for it must be submitted in writing and mailed to its office.
The annual report usually runs just one page long. It lays out how many allegations were made in the past year, how many cases were opened, and how many allegations were sustained after internal investigations. In previous years, the annual report has broken down who made the complaint into four categories that distinguish between complaints from members of the public, allegations made by members of other law enforcement agencies, internal complaints, and complaints made anonymously.
This year, the department created a new “department investigation” category but didn't include a definition of what exactly that term meant. In 2020, there were 106 cases, 18% of which were the result of internal complaints. In 2019, there were 228 cases, 82% came from internal complaints. For over a decade, internal complaints have represented the highest number of allegations — but in 2020, the new, undefined “department investigation” category accounts for the majority.
The department did not respond to questions about what the new category means or why it was introduced.
The bare-bones nature of the report and the fact that the categories have been changed make public efforts to hold the department accountable next to impossible, said Amelia Strauss, a policy adviser at Demand Progress.
“We don't know what the nature of the complaints are,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director of Demand Progress. “Were they serious? Were they not serious? We have no idea because they won't tell us. … They feel no desire to answer questions, even though it’s one of the biggest police departments in the country. They just don't care about that transparency.”
Schuman added, “What we’ve seen over the decades with the Capitol Police is that they're the least accountable security force in the country.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which has oversight power over the agency, told BuzzFeed News that their office has been pushing for the department to release more information because “increased transparency is a major piece of accountability.”
Rep. Jennifer Wexton struck a similar note during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the department’s failure to protect the Capitol on Jan. 6.
"The United States Capitol Police is notoriously opaque,” Wexton said. “You guys have had zero public press conferences in your department in the nearly two months since the attack.”
During the hearing on Feb. 25, Wexton, who represents Serena Liebengood, the widow of Capitol Police officer Howie Liebengood, who died by suicide in the wake of the attack, pressed acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman to commit to at least holding a press conference. Pittman declined this request.
"Clear and accurate information from law enforcement is essential to our efforts to get the answers we need about the January 6th attack,” Wexton said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Instead, what we have seen is a failure of leadership, a failure to be transparent, and a failure to take responsibility.”