Since the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, police officers have been reeling from a sense of low morale, staffing shortages and a spike in threats levied at members of Congress.
House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch Tuesday that almost 9,000 threats were made against lawmakers in 2021, nearly “double” the number of threats issued in 2020.
Walker said those threats come in a variety of ways, including through “menacing” or “reckless” comments made on social media.
A large group of police arrive at the Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The House Sergeant-at-Arms, who oversees the security and administrative responsibilities for the House of Representatives, said it is not just the sheer number of threats that they have received that is causing concern amongst police officials.
“The Capitol Police have to investigate the threat and then determine: ‘Does this person have the means, capability and motive to act on the threat?’ And once that’s determined, sometimes the prosecution – state, local, federal – is not following through on bringing these people to justice,” Walker told lawmakers.
He said that if the Capitol Police decide they have found sufficient evidence to recommend a case to an assistant U.S. attorney or a state attorney, then the individual involved with the threat should be prosecuted.
Walker also suggested that existing laws established to protect elected officials in high offices, like those in the presidential line of succession, need to be strengthened to include lower members of Congress.
Family members of U.S. Capitol Police Officer William Evans watch as his casket is carried by a joint service honor guard down the East Front steps of the Capitol after lying in honor in the Rotunda on April 13, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Evans was killed and another wounded after a man rammed through security and crashed into a barrier at the complex, forcing it into lockdown less than three months after the mob insurrection at Congress. (Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images)
“Somebody is eventually going to act on it, and it could be a tragedy if we don’t do something about it,” Walker said.
Subcommittee Chair Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said lawmakers lack the ability to obtain adequate security for not only themselves but for their families, despite the nature of their public-facing offices.
But it is not just lawmakers who are feeling the strain from the lack of security at the Capitol.
The Capitol Police Board is looking to expand the force by 280 officers a year for the next “couple of years,” explained Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger.
But hiring 280 officers a year is no quick fix, he said, noting it takes “the better part of year” between hiring and onboarding an officer before he or she is ready to take up the posting.
Manger said the force is looking to address “staffing hardships” in the more immediate future by rehiring retired Capitol Police officers, hiring contract security forces and onboarding lateral hires from positions in other federal law enforcement agencies.
The chief said the biggest hurdle the Capitol Police force faces is not recruiting, but rather hiring.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger is sworn in to testify before a Senate Rules and Administration Committee oversight hearing on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Washington. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP)
The force receives 15-20 applicants for every hire it makes.
“We’re going to need more recruiters, more background investigators,” Manger said, outlining the steps the board has taken to expand its outreach and diversification.
“I think we’re going to be able to do it,” he added. “I think we can be competitive and my belief is we can accomplish this goal.”
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