Report details failings that left US Capitol Police unprepared for insurrection

14 April 2021, 11:44

People storm the Capitol in Washington on January 6
Capitol Breach Security. Picture: PA

The watchdog report describes riot shields that shattered upon impact, expired weapons that could not be used and inadequate training.

A blistering internal report by the US Capitol Police describes a multitude of missteps that left the force unprepared for the January 6 insurrection which saw hundreds of Donald Trump’s supporters laying siege to the Capitol.

The watchdog report, released internally last month, describes riot shields that shattered upon impact, expired weapons that could not be used, inadequate training and an intelligence division that had few set standards.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press ahead of a congressional hearing on Thursday, adds to what is already known about broader security and intelligence failures that Congress has been investigating since the January 6 incident.

In an extensive and detailed timeline of that day, the report describes conversations between officials as they disagreed on whether National Guard forces were necessary to back up the understaffed Capitol Police force.

Police keep a watch on demonstrators who tried to break through a police barrier at the US Capitol in Washington on January 6
Police keep a watch on demonstrators who tried to break through a police barrier at the US Capitol on January 6 (Julio Cortez/AP)

It quotes an Army official as telling then-Capitol police chief Steven Sund that “we don’t like the optics of the National Guard standing in a line at the Capitol” after the insurrectionists had already broken in.

Inspector general Michael A Bolton found that the department’s deficiencies were – and remain – widespread.

Equipment was old and stored badly, leaders had failed to act on previous recommendations to improve intelligence, and there was a broad lack of current policies or procedures for the Civil Disturbance Unit, a division that existed to ensure that legislative functions of Congress were not disrupted by civil unrest or protest activity.

That was exactly what happened on January 6 as Mr Trump’s supporters sought to overturn the presidential election in his favour as Congress counted the Electoral College votes.

The report comes as the Capitol Police force has plunging morale and has edged closer to crisis as many officers have been working extra shifts and forced overtime to protect the Capitol after the insurrection.

Acting chief Yogananda Pittman received a vote of no confidence from the union in February, reflecting widespread distrust among the rank and file.

The entire force is also grieving the deaths of two of their own – officer Brian Sicknick, who collapsed and died after engaging with protesters on January 6, and officer William “Billy” Evans, who was killed on April 2 when he was hit by a car that rammed into a barricade outside the Senate.

The coffin of US Capitol Police officer William 'Billy' Evans is carried from the Capitol by a joint services honour guard in Washington
The coffin of US Capitol Police officer William ‘Billy’ Evans is carried by a joint services honour guard in Washington (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP/Pool)

Mr Evans laid in honour in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday.

The Capitol Police have so far refused to publicly release the report – marked throughout as “law enforcement sensitive” – despite congressional pressure to do so.

House Administration Committee chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (Democrat-California) issued a statement in March that she had been briefed on the report, along with another internal document, and that it contained “detailed and disturbing findings and important recommendations”.

Mr Bolton was expected to give evidence before her panel on Thursday.

The report focuses heavily on failure of equipment and training on January 6 as Capitol Police were quickly overwhelmed by around 800 of Mr Trump’s supporters who pushed past them, beat them and broke windows and doors to get into the building.

It also looks at missed intelligence as the insurrectionists planned the attack openly online, and as various agencies sent warnings that were disseminated incorrectly.

Mr Bolton found that in many cases department equipment had expired but was not replaced and some of it was more than 20 years old.

Police stand guard after holding off violent rioters who tried to break through a police barrier at the US Capitol in Washington on January 6
Police stand guard after holding off violent rioters who tried to break through a police barrier at the US Capitol on January 6 (Julio Cortez/AP)

Riot shields that shattered upon impact as the officers fended off the violent mob had been improperly stored, Mr Bolton found.

Some weapons that could have fired tear gas were so old that officers did not feel comfortable using them.

Other weapons that could have done more to disperse the crowd were never staged ahead of the rally, and those who were ordered to get back-up supplies to the officers on the front lines could not make it through the aggressive crowd.

In other cases, weapons were not used because of “orders from leadership”, the report says.

Those weapons – called “less lethal” because they are designed to disperse, not kill – could have allowed the police to better push back the rioters as they moved towards the building, according to the report.

In terms of the Civil Disturbance Unit, the report said there was a total lack of policy and procedure, and many officers did not want to be a part of it.

There were not enough guidelines for when to activate the unit, how to issue gear, what tactics to use or lay out the command structure.

Smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as violent rioters loyal to President Donald Trump are confronted by US Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol in Washington on January 6
Smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as violent rioters are confronted by US Capitol Police officers on January 6 (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Some of the policies had not been updated in more than a decade and there was no firm roster of who was even in the division.

The unit was at a “decreased level of readiness and preparedness” because there were no standards for equipment, the report said.

Mr Bolton also laid out many of the missed intelligence signals – including a report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security in December that forwarded messages posted on forums supportive of Mr Trump that appeared to be planning for January 6.

One part of that document included a map of Capitol tunnels that someone had posted.

“Take note,” the message said.

The report looks at a missed memo from the FBI in which online activists predicted a “war” on January 6 – Mr Sund told Senate investigators last month he never saw it.

Mr Bolton also details the force’s own internal reports, which he said were inconsistent.

The American flag at the US Capitol flies at half-mast in honour of Capitol Police officer William 'Billy' Evans
The American flag at the US Capitol flies at half-mast in honour of Capitol Police officer William ‘Billy’ Evans (Alex Brandon/AP)

One Capitol Police report predicted that the protesters could become violent, but Mr Sund testified before the Senate in February that internal assessments had said violence was “improbable”.

On intelligence, Mr Bolton said, there was a lack of adequate training and guidance for dissemination within the department.

There were no policies or procedures for open source data gathering – such as gathering information from the online Trump forums – and analysts “may not be aware of the proper methods of conducting open source intelligence work”.

A timeline attached to the report gives a more detailed look at Capitol Police movements, commands and conversations as the day unfolded and they scrambled to move staff and equipment to multiple fronts where people were breaking in.

The timeline sheds new light on conversations in which Mr Sund begged for National Guard support.

Mr Sund and others, including the head of the DC National Guard, have testified that Pentagon officials were concerned about the optics of sending help.

The document gives the clearest proof of that concern yet, quoting Army Staff Secretary Walter Piatt telling Mr Sund and others on a call that “we don’t like the optics” of the National Guard at the Capitol and he would recommend not sending them.

US Capitol Police officers wait for the coffin of US Capitol Police officer William 'Billy' Evans
US Capitol Police officers wait for the coffin of William ‘Billy’ Evans (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

That was at 2.26pm, as rioters had already broken through windows and as Mr Sund desperately asked for the help.

The Pentagon eventually approved the Guard’s presence, and Guard members arrived after 5pm.

While they were waiting, Mr Sund also had a teleconference with vice president Mike Pence, the timeline shows.

Mr Pence was in a secure location in the Capitol because he had overseen the counting of the votes, and some of the rioters were calling for his hanging because he had indicated he would not try to overturn President Joe Biden’s election win.

The AP reported on Saturday that Mr Pence also had a conversation that day with acting defence secretary Christopher Miller in which he directed that he “clear the Capitol”.

By Press Association