Lack of Training Led Capitol Police to Temper Riot Response, Watchdog Says
The force’s inspector general testified that a top official ordered officers not to use their most powerful anti-riot tools on Jan. 6 because of concerns they did not know how.,
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Capitol Police’s independent watchdog told Congress on Thursday that a senior official on the force had instructed officers not to use their most powerful crowd-control weapons on Jan. 6 because they had little training with the equipment and the official was afraid they would misuse it and potentially harm or kill people.
The testimony from Michael A. Bolton, the Capitol Police’s inspector general, was the latest in a series of damaging revelations about the missteps and dysfunction that plagued the force’s response to the deadliest attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years.
In his latest investigative report and his comments to the House Administration Committee on Thursday, Mr. Bolton faulted the agency for treating its Civil Disturbance Unit, which is charged with containing crowds and responding to protests, as a side assignment for officers, rather than a dedicated and specially trained force focusing full time on those tasks.
“Training deficiencies put officers — our brave men and women — in a position not to succeed,” Mr. Bolton told lawmakers.
While he did not name the official who gave the order, Mr. Bolton said an assistant chief had told officers not to use weapons such as sting balls and stun grenades that are commonly used to disperse crowds because the official was concerned they did not know how to use them properly.
“Let’s provide the training to our officers so they are used appropriately,” Mr. Bolton told the committee. Asked whether the use of such equipment could have prevented the storming of the Capitol, he noted that once District of Columbia police officers arrived on the scene to assist, they used such less-lethal weapons on the rioters, turning many of them back.
“It certainly would have helped us” if Capitol Police had done the same, Mr. Bolton said.
Mr. Bolton’s most recent, 104-page report on the force’s response to the storming of the Capitol detailed a litany of other agency failures that contributed to the dysfunction. Leaders overlooked their own intelligence indicating the threat of violence by aggrieved pro-Trump extremists, he said, and critical equipment such as riot shields were either inaccessible or defective.
But beyond the specific breakdowns leading up to Jan. 6, Mr. Bolton said the 2,000-person force was plagued by cultural and operational problems. The department needs an overhaul, he testified, from a conventional police force to a “protective agency,” more like the Secret Service, that focuses on anticipating and preventing attacks.
“A protective agency is postured to being proactive to prevent events such as Jan. 6,” Mr. Bolton testified.
He also urged that the Civil Disturbance Unit become “a stand-alone, highly trained unit,” rather than an ad hoc group of officers who tend to its functions on the side. Mr. Bolton said it should be an “elite” squad with no other responsibilities — “that’s their full-time job.”
His remarks came during a trying time for the Capitol Police, after dozens of officers were injured by the mob of Trump supporters and one, Officer Brian D. Sicknick, later died. Two days ago, Officer William F. Evans, who died after a car rammed into him as he stood guard on the Capitol plaza this month, was honored in the Capitol Rotunda.
On Thursday, lawmakers zeroed in on Mr. Bolton’s revelation that a department leader had directed officers not to use aggressive crowd-control equipment. In his report, he wrote that rank-and-file officers had told him they believed such weapons would have helped hold back the crowds that eventually overtook them and stormed the building.
Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the administration panel, called that finding particularly “troubling” and asked him to name names.
“Officers lost their lives as a result of this horrific attack,” Ms. Lofgren said. “Officers were viciously beaten with flagpoles, including some displaying Blue Lives Matter flags and the American flag.”
Mr. Bolton did not provide a name, and Capitol Police officials did not immediately respond to a question about the order or who issued it. In a statement, they said the department “welcomes” the review and Mr. Bolton’s recommendations.
The department said it had already begun to streamline a “comprehensive intelligence-sharing process” and was working “diligently to replace aging equipment.”
Classified as “law enforcement sensitive,” Mr. Bolton’s report has not been released to the public, but The New York Times reviewed a copy before Mr. Bolton’s testimony, and the committee posted a summary online.
It found that the department’s own intelligence unit warned three days before the attack that aggrieved supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, including white supremacists and militia groups that promote violence, would target Congress and could pose a danger to law enforcement and civilians.
The inspector general found that officers responding on Jan. 6 had been outfitted with protective shields that had been stored in a trailer without climate control and that “shattered upon impact.” In another case, officers frantic for something to protect them could not access their shields during the riot because they were locked on a bus.
Gus Papathanasiou, the chairman of the Capitol Police union, called the inspector general’s report “damning.”
“It’s clear our leaders did not have a clear plan to identify threats before Jan. 6, nor did they provide the training, equipment, communication or guidance that officers needed to defend the Capitol that day,” he said in a statement. “The inspector general’s report confirms that U.S.C.P. leadership had actionable intelligence and did nothing with it.”
During the hearing Thursday, Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the committee, called for an overhaul of the Capitol Police board, the secretive three-member panel that oversees protection of the complex where Congress meets. The board has come under criticism for ignoring warnings about the severity of the threat posed by the mob and moving slowly to call for the National Guard once the siege was underway.
“I’ve said for a long time an overhaul of the board is needed,” Mr. Davis said.
The committee’s review is one of a series of congressional inquires underway into the events of Jan. 6.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee, which is undertaking its own review, said Thursday that Mr. Bolton’s testimony “reinforced the bipartisan consensus that major reforms are needed to both intelligence sharing and to ensure that the Capitol Police have the equipment, training and procedures in place that are needed to protect the Capitol complex.”
Ms. Klobuchar said a joint report produced by her committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee would be released in the coming weeks.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that appropriators were closing in on an emergency spending proposal to begin reinforcing the Capitol and its police force in the coming weeks.
Though she cautioned that she was still reviewing drafts, Ms. Pelosi said the bill was likely to include funds to pay back agencies that helped respond on Jan. 6 and increase the size and training of the police force. It would also pay to install new protective windows, doors and other infrastructure throughout the complex.
“That’s a big-ticket item,” she told reporters.
An official familiar with the talks on the spending measure said the process had been complicated by requests by senators to attach other, unrelated items. The price of the draft legislation has hovered around $2 billion but could change, the official said.
Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.