Park Police radio channels unrecorded for years, watchdog says

Failed recording system was discovered after officers violently cleared protesters from Lafayette Square in 2020

U.S. Park Police faced protestors in Lafayette Square on May 31 and June 1, 2020.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. Park Police faced protestors in Lafayette Square on May 31 and June 1, 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 6, 2022 at 5:56pm

The U.S. Park Police for years did not record radio communications on audio channels it used to operate and coordinate between officers, a violation of federal and department policies, an independent watchdog said Wednesday.

In a report, the Interior Department’s inspector general said the Park Police did not record communications on two of the three primary radio channels the agency uses: its “admin” channel and its “special event” channel.

The Park Police did not record radio communications on the admin channel from October 2018 through June 2020 or on its special event channel between March 2018 and August 2020, according to the inspector general.

The inspector general found that the police agency discovered this void in record keeping after a Park Police official requested audio recordings of the protests against police violence in and around the White House, including in Lafayette Park, between May 29 and June 3, 2020, and was informed some audio recordings of the events during that period did not exist.

Responsible for patrolling sites of national importance in and around Washington, the Park Police has been under public scrutiny since some of its officers along with officers from other law enforcement agencies violently cleared largely peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park on June 1, 2020.

[Invisible to most Americans, Park Police now in the spotlight]

Neither the Interior Department nor the Park Police responded to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the House Natural Resources Committee, which has said it is running its own investigations of the police actions on that day, did not respond to a request for comment either.

Settlement

The Park Police and the U.S. Secret Service, which also had officers present that day, reached a settlement in April over their officers’ actions in connection with those demonstrations.

Both agencies said they would update their policies governing protests.

The inspector general said it did not determine that the recording failure on June 1, 2020, was intentional.

“We also did not find evidence suggesting that the USPP deliberately used the admin radio channel to communicate on June 1 because anyone had actual knowledge the channel was not recording,” the report says.

At a congressional hearing in July 2020, the former chief of the agency, Gregory Monahan, defended Park Police officers’ tactics, describing the demonstration as “one of the most violent” he had seen. At that hearing, he also said audio recordings of the police activities on June 1 were missing.

A Park Police officer, a commander who is not named in the report, said in a June 2020 email reviewed by the inspector general that the void in audio recordings stripped the agency of potential evidence.

“To not have the events over the past week recorded will go down as one of the biggest critical failures possible. Using that information for evidence and after-action review is critical,” the officer wrote to other Park Police personnel, according to the report.

Recording radio and phone communication can be useful in emergency situations, the inspector general said.

“For example, USPP personnel told us that dispatchers need the ability to instantly playback recordings of radio communications or phone calls in emergency situations where a caller cannot repeat what was said,” the inspector general said in its report. 

“Radio and phone recordings are also frequently used as evidence in investigations and prosecutions,” the report says. “USPP personnel stated that the recordings are an important tool for dispatch center supervisors to monitor dispatcher performance, resolve complaints from the public, and analyze radio reception issues across the USPP’s area of responsibility.”

The inspector general said beyond reading emails and other documents, its staff interviewed more than 35 active and former officials and contractors at Interior to complete the report.