Law enforcement’s reaction to Friday’s vehicle attack at the Capitol was swift.
Within minutes of a vehicle slamming into a security barrier outside the Capitol, local and federal officers swarmed to the scene.
A U.S. Park Police helicopter, in a dramatic show of force, hovered over the Capitol and landed on the building’s north side, a dramatic move longtime observers of Capitol Hill had not witnessed before.
Yet when the latest assault was repelled, leaving one officer and the 25-year-old suspect dead, the familiar and increasingly glaring questions about the readiness of a traumatized U.S. Capitol Police force remained.
A laundry list of needs, laid bare in a review of the department after the attack Jan. 6 – in which a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, killing USCP officer Brian Sicknick and injuring nearly 140 other officers – was highlighted by a call to fill more than 200 vacant positions within a wheezing force in need of hundreds more, along with a revamped training program and intelligence gathering system.
While a search continues for a permanent leader for the force, Congress has yet to act on the sweeping security recommendations delivered last month by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore who said that some lawmakers were not moving with the necessary urgency to bolster the Capitol’s defenses, declaring that the seat of American democracy remained a vulnerable target.
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“They (lawmakers) have got to recognize that the Capitol is not just a target sometimes; it’s a target all the time,” Honore told USA TODAY on Saturday. “The Capitol is a target because it is the center of power in this country, and it needs to be protected like the gold in Fort Knox.
“That is the message we’ve got to get to lawmakers. We can’t wait for Jesus to come fix this,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tasked Honore to lead the security review. Lawmakers debate recommended upgrades as they balance increased security against keeping the Capitol campus open and accessible to the public.
The 15-page report recommended hiring 854 more Capitol Police officers for the force of about 2,000 to reduce staggering overtime costs while bolstering the agency’s intelligence analysis functions. The report stressed the need for training to handle demonstrations.
Read: Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré’s full security recommendations for the Capitol after the riot Jan. 6
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“This is a department under stress, operating with last-century equipment and resources,” Honore said Saturday. “They need resources.”
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that decides spending for the Capitol, said Friday he wants to add nearly 1,000 Capitol Police officers. He said security must be reconsidered after the latest attack, and any decisions must be bipartisan.
“I think everything’s going to be reevaluated after today,” Ryan said. “This is about the security of the nation’s Capitol that’s the temple of democracy. We’ve got to make sure that it is secure.“
Another recommendation from the Honore task force was to create a quick reaction force of the National Guard, to remain permanently for faster response to emergencies like the riot Jan. 6. More than 2,200 troops remain stationed at the Capitol, which some lawmakers have questioned.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman noted the Guard presence Friday as a welcomed asset to the security force.
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“We are very thankful for our National Guard partnership,” Pittman said. “We do have National Guard on the campus, but the security posture at this time remains the same.”
The task force recommendation envisioned that the National Guard troops would supplement the strained Capitol Police and serve in the quick reaction force on three- to six-month rotations under the District of Columbia National Guard.
“Another option would be to create a QRF that permanently resides within the D.C. Guard by reestablishing a military police battalion and staffing it with Active Guard Reserve troops who live in or near the city year-round, perpetually on active duty,” the report said.
Lawmakers resisted a permanent National Guard assignment. The top Republicans on five Senate committees questioned the justification for keeping 2,280 National Guard troops stationed at the Capitol through May 23 and suggested the security posture is “disproportionate to the available intelligence.”
On March 4, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said stationing troops at the Capitol for an additional two months was “outrageous” because it wasn’t their mission.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, left, and Monique Moore were the first two African American women to achieve the rank of captain on the force.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said March 10 that security was “overdone” after the riot.
“Do we need some changes?” McConnell asked. “We probably do, but I think we are continuing to overreact based on current threat levels of what is needed here at the Capitol. It looks terrible to have the beacon of our democracy surrounded by razor wire and National Guard troops.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Saturday the attack on Capitol Police officers added to the need to address security in a comprehensive way.
“Senate committees are already conducting bipartisan and extensive reviews to ensure the Capitol is as secure as possible while also remaining accessible to the public,” Schumer said. “We are fully committed to ensuring the Capitol is safe for visitors and all who work here.”
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Saturday the focus should be on the officers who were lost, wounded and impacted.
“There will be time to examine staffing levels and related security issues, but right now we’re just focused on supporting our officers and their families,” said Reed, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that determines Capitol Police spending and serves on the Armed Services Committee.
Terrance Gainer, a former Capitol Police chief who served on Honore’s task force, said the agency’s officers “want to see the actions and changes that should grow out of Jan. 6.”
“I hope they (lawmakers) haven’t forgotten that all of the recommendations need to be acted on,” Gainer said.
The latest attack and the resulting loss struck a personal chord with the former chief.
Gainer headed the department when officer William Evans, who was killed in Friday’s assault, began his career 18 years ago.
“My interaction with him was always positive and welcoming; he always had this big smile on his face,” Gainer said. He learned that the officer had been “working through some guilt,” as he was not assigned to the response Jan. 6.
“A lot of officers are still struggling, grappling with guilt and psychological trauma,” Gainer said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New Capitol attack highlights security gaps; Congress urged to act