WASHINGTON — A year after thousands of violent pro-Trump rioters overwhelmed police officers at the US Capitol — severely injuring dozens in the process — the force dedicated to protecting the premier symbol of American democracy has transformed.
The leaders who were in charge of the US Capitol Police on Jan. 6 were ousted following criticism for intelligence and other failures that left the legislative branch vulnerable to the stunning attack. And more broadly, the agency that was once little-known outside of Washington now has an elevated profile, leading to a roughly 15% increase in funding and a greater awareness of its role in the patchwork of groups that protect the region.
With the nation’s political divide running deep and an unprecedented number of threats against lawmakers, there is still concern about the readiness of the Capitol Police to thwart another attack. But experts say the shock of the insurrection has prompted needed changes, including better communication among the Capitol Police, other law enforcement agencies and the public.
“It’s a sea change between this year and last year in terms of how the Capitol Police are thinking, and operating,” said Chuck Wexler, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization that focuses on professionalism in policing. “They’re going to be over-prepared, and willing to be criticized for being over-prepared.”
As the temporary public face of the department, then-acting Police Chief Yogananda Pittman conceded to Congress in February that multiple levels of failures allowed rioters to storm the building. But she disputed the notion that law enforcement had failed to take the threat seriously, noting how Capitol Police several days before the riot had distributed an internal document warning that extremists were poised for violence.
The police department had compiled numerous intelligence documents suggesting the crowd could turn violent and even target Congress. The intelligence documents, obtained by The Associated Press, warned that crowds could number in the tens of thousands and include members of extremist groups like the Proud Boys.
The Capitol Police Board has oversight of the force and is comprised of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the architect of the Capitol, who oversees the building. It passed over Pittman in its search for a permanent chief and, in July, selected J. Thomas Manger, the former chief of the police departments in Fairfax County, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland.
Manger has focused on making major changes to the agency, which includes 1,800 sworn police officers and nearly 400 civilian employees. He’s ordered new equipment for front-line officers and officers assigned to the civil disturbance unit while expanding training sessions with the National Guard and other agencies. He’s also pushed for stronger peer support and mental health services for officers.