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Police shortage prompts Capitol to begin using security contractors

Union leader called hiring contractors 'a recipe for disaster'

Capitol Police officers in 2012 stand guard at the steps leading up to the Capitol from the Capitol Visitor Center.
Capitol Police officers in 2012 stand guard at the steps leading up to the Capitol from the Capitol Visitor Center. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Contract security officers will start work May 2 as part of a new program to help alleviate staffing shortages within the Capitol Police, according to a letter from the Capitol Police Board to lawmakers and staff obtained by CQ Roll Call.

The new Capitol security officers will be unarmed and have a uniform of gray dress pants and a navy blue blazer. They will be positioned inside secured buildings and within existing patrol areas. 

The move “will free up the USCP officers to focus on their critical mission to protect the Capitol complex,” according to the announcement from House Sergeant at Arms William Walker, Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson and Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton.  

Since the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, officers leaving and forced overtime have been a constant strain on the department. The Capitol Police department lost between 140 and 150 officers from Jan. 6, 2021 to Jan. 6, 2022, an attrition rate double that of other years, Chief J. Thomas Manger has said. As of late March, there are around 1,849 officers, approximately 300 short of what the Manger has said is necessary.

Using security contractors has been opposed by the Capitol Police department’s union. In January, Chairman Gus Papathanasiou rejected the idea of hiring security contractors.

“We need to hire more officers — period,” Papathanasiou said at the time. “The last thing we need are private security contractors who are not trained to our standards. It’s a recipe for disaster. In law enforcement, we have to trust the men and women next to us.”

When he appeared before congressional appropriators last month, Manger asked for a budget of $708 million for fiscal year 2023, in part, to hire more officers. That would be a $105.5 million increase over the current fiscal year.

Reopening the Capitol complex has been hampered by officer staffing shortfalls. The Capitol Police Board said the security contractors will help address the problem and help to fully reopen the campus.

“Due to staffing shortages, the USCP officers have been required to work mandatory overtime and have experienced the cancellation of well-deserved scheduled days off,” the letter says. “Capitol Security Officers will assist those who protect the House and Senate community as we continue to safely re-open the Capitol complex.”

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