Watchdog says Capitol Police need training, culture shift a year after Jan. 6 attack

Supporters of President Trump on a balcony of the U.S. Capitol
Supporters of President Trump storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
(Getty Images)

The U.S. Capitol Police force has not made the majority of its inspector general’s post-Jan. 6 recommendations, he told a House committee Thursday, saying more training and intelligence gathering are among the department’s most pressing needs to anticipate and protect against threats to Congress.

The government watchdog has released eight reports over the last year on the law enforcement failures that contributed to thousands of supporters of then-President Trump breaking into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The public quickly questioned why Capitol Police seemed so ill-prepared for the insurrection, which sent members of the House and Senate scrambling for safety and delayed certification of the 2020 presidential election results for several hours.


The House Administration Committee is examining whether the department’s operations need structural changes, and who has authority over it.

Police Inspector General Michael Bolton told committee members that just 39 of his more than 100 recommendations for improving the department have been implemented. The department has increased intelligence briefings for rank-and-file officers and improved planning for large events, he said, but still lacks proper training and intelligence gathering.

Some of the recommendations will take additional time, money or manpower, Bolton said, adding that others haven’t been implemented because the Capitol Police chief does not agree they are necessary.

“There’s a variety of reasons,” he said, “but they are at least working toward getting those recommendations closed.”

Bolton said some of the recommendations are aimed at getting the department to make a cultural shift toward acting as a protective service, such as the Secret Service, to anticipate potential threats to members of Congress and the Capitol building.

“We need to quit thinking of ourselves as a police department. We are a protective agency,” he told lawmakers.

Members of Congress have complained that the department isn’t equipped to address the soaring number of threats they face in Washington and in their districts.

Capitol Police officials declined to comment on Thursday’s testimony, referring The Times back to the statement the department released in December, when Bolton last testified before Congress. In that statement, officials said they agreed that additional training and other improvements were needed. Since that time, Bolton has released three additional reports.

Bolton’s findings were echoed in a separate, unrelated report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, the agency tasked with
investigating government spending and performance for Congress.

The GAO found that the Capitol Police Board, made up of the House sergeant at arms, the Senate sergeant at arms and the Capitol architect, still has not developed a written procedure for obtaining outside law enforcement help in an emergency, including who needs to sign off on such a decision.

“The U.S. Capitol Police’s … planning for January 6, 2021, did not reflect the potential for extreme violence aimed at the Capitol and did not include contingencies for support from other agencies,” the GAO report states.

Multiple people have testified that the House and Senate sergeants at arms rejected the department’s request on Jan. 4, 2001, to have the National Guard present that Jan. 6.

Then, as Capitol Police were being overrun outside the building, and the police chief again requested aid from the National Guard, the board sought approval from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) before asking the National Guard to intervene. It still isn’t clear whether that permission was needed.

The GAO also found that, though procedures are being created, the police force has no standard method for assessing risks to the Capitol, and the board lacks a clear, consistent method for deciding when to accept the police chief’s safety recommendations. Capitol Police officials agreed with the GAO’s findings. The board did not take a position.

“Even after decades of attacks, the Capitol is no better prepared today than it was on Jan. 6,” committee ranking member Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said, blaming Pelosi, the police board and police leadership.

Then-Police Chief Steven Sund, House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger all resigned after the insurrection.

House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) said that Bolton and his office would continue to monitor whether his recommendations are implemented.

The committee also heard from Daniel Schuman of the independent government watchdog group Demand Progress, who said oversight of the Capitol Police is inherently flawed because the agency’s governing board can easily fire the police inspector general, who is responsible for investigating internal problems in the force. The inspector general does not have the authority to investigate the police board.

The Capitol Police and its board and inspector general fall under Congress’ exemption from the Freedom of Information Act, and rarely make information about their decision-making processes available to the public. Neither the full text of Bolton’s eight reports, nor previous inspectors general reports on the department, have been released.

“We can only wonder whether there are preexisting IG recommendations unheeded by the Capitol Police that could have made a difference on Jan. 6,” Schuman said.