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OTHER VIEWS: US Capitol needs stronger police force

OTHER VIEWS: US Capitol needs stronger police force

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Just two months after the invasion of the U.S. Capitol that left one Capitol Police officer dead and dozens injured, another officer was killed last week and a second was injured when a man rammed his car into them.

The attack has raised fresh concerns about how best to secure not only the Capitol compound but to protect the lives of officers who may become targets. After hitting a barricade, the assailant, Noah Green, leapt from the car and ran toward officers with a knife. He was shot dead. Only weeks earlier, barbed wire fencing surrounding the Capitol had been removed.

A task force formed in the wake of the Jan. 6 invasion urged Congress to increase Capitol Police staffing, improve the force's intelligence-gathering, create mobile fencing and make other improvements.

The task force's report showed that threats against the Capitol and congressional members come increasingly from domestic sources, and that Capitol Police were ill-positioned to respond because of "significant capacity shortfalls, inadequate training, immature processes and an operating culture that is not intelligence-driven."

It is a stunning list of shortcomings given that their charge is to protect this nation's seat of government. There may have been a time when the main issues were how best to move crowds of tourists through the Capitol or deal with occasional unruly protesters. Those days are clearly gone. Today members of the Capitol Police require top-level training and a sophisticated intelligence operation, as well as detailed plans for levels of response up to and including an actual invasion of the grounds by hostile forces, whether foreign or domestic.

A separate, preliminary report by the U.S. Capitol Police's inspector general also called out intelligence failures and an unconscionable lack of planning before Jan. 6. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton found in his review that the force "did not prepare a comprehensive, Departmentwide plan for (Jan. 6) demonstrations." Bolton also took the department to task for its failure to communicate information from the FBI that warned of potential violence.

Capitol Police leaders have said that they faced "internal challenges including communication issues and inadequate training, which [the department] is correcting." That's important, but they also stated that short of excessive use of deadly force, nothing within its arsenal on Jan. 6 would have stopped the violent insurrectionists. That is not credible, nor is it an acceptable conclusion.

It is clear that changes must be made. The Capitol Police force is the only full-service, federal law enforcement agency appointed by Congress. That makes it uniquely dependent on Congress for funding and resources. It is answerable to a three-member Capitol Police Board made up of the House Sergeant at Arms, the Senate Sergeant at Arms and a relatively obscure office known as the Architect of the Capitol. That is an archaic structure that may well need to change.

On Jan. 6, the Capitol Police chief was frantically trying to reach the Sergeants at Arms for access to National Guard units, but they were busy protecting members of Congress.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who heads the Rules Committee and who is coleading an investigation into the Capitol riot with Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, said she has held two major hearings and is committed to a detailed, bipartisan look at what is needed.

A report due to be released in early May is expected to make recommendations on additional security measures, staffing, intelligence-gathering and coordination and the structure of the police board, Klobuchar said.

"The brave men and women of the Capitol Police who put their lives on the line every day deserve to know that we have their backs and that they have the resources they need," she said, adding that the death of officer William Evans last week is "another reminder of that."

Star Tribune

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