More than a year after the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, the Capitol Police department is barely keeping up with investigating threats against members of Congress, and security officials are intently focused on constructing new layers of protection for lawmakers amid the increasing dangers.
“We are investigating the threats against Congress, but I will tell you we’re barely keeping our head above water for those investigations,” Chief J. Thomas Manger told the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday.
There were roughly 9,600 threats in 2021, 8,613 in 2020 and 6,955 in 2019. Manger praised the security supplemental legislation last year that delivered more than $70 million in aid to the department in the form of salaries and new equipment to areas that needed it desperately, such as the civil disturbance unit.
Still, the department needs to “nearly double” the number of agents who work member threat cases, and Manger plans to ask in the fiscal 2023 funding request for more threat investigators, more Dignitary Protection Division agents to protect congressional leaders, and other areas where the workload has increased.
House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker told the appropriators “we do need to throw funding at protecting members,” to make sure lawmakers are safe at the Capitol, their homes when working in Washington, while they travel and in their respective districts.
Walker called for having — in each member’s district — two law enforcement coordinators who are experienced law enforcement officers who can carry a weapon, are well suited to conduct threat assessments and are able to identify potential threats against members in district offices and at appearances members make. He also said it is important for all members to have security systems at both their D.C. and district residences, which would include interior and exterior cameras, alarms and a video doorbell.
Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton said his office has installed “breach-resistant hinges” to reduce the ability of people to enter the doors in leadership offices as well as peepholes to look out.
Blanton, Manger and Walker all said they would be adversely affected if there is a another continuing resolution as the Feb. 18 funding deadline approaches, rather than Congress passing a fiscal 2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations measure.
Staffing shortages are also a concern to Manger when it comes to being able to adequately protect members. The force has been plagued by staffing shortages and further ravaged by COVID-19 cases. He said between 100 and 200 officers are out because of the coronavirus. The department is well over 400 officers short of where it needs to be, according to Manger, an issue that persists.
“Look, we’ve got a ways to go before we can reopen the campus, but we’re working toward that and if I’m able to get up 288 new recruits on board this year, it’ll get us a long way toward being able to staff the posts that we need to staff to be able to open back up, but we need some time,” he said.
Walker said his office has a plan to reopen the Capitol to the public, but will refrain from doing so until Capitol Attending Physician Brian Monahan says it is safe to do so.
Walker said the “challenge is everything we’re hearing from Adm. Monahan tells us that opening the Capitol is not safe right now,” amid rising COVID-19 cases. Opening the Capitol now, Walker said, would place an “undue burden” on Capitol Police officers.