Even after a big boost this fiscal year for the U.S. Capitol Police, the force is still in dire need of more officers to face the challenges of an upcoming presidential election, a recently reopened Capitol and growing threats against members, according to Chief J. Thomas Manger.
Manger testified Tuesday before the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee and made a familiar plea for more funding to allow the department to staff up. Its $840.9 million fiscal 2024 request is a more than 14 percent increase over enacted fiscal 2023 funding. Much of that money would go toward hiring and retention, Manger said.
“We still are forcing officers to work overtime that they wouldn’t necessarily volunteer for,” Manger said. “We’re holding them over at the end of their shifts. We’re canceling days off to make sure we have enough folks for a particular event.”
“I know that this is not a sustainable strategy,” the chief continued. “And the only way we’re going to be able to fix that is to get our staffing levels up to what I’ve asked for in FY 24.” The force received a 22 percent boost in funding from fiscal 2022 to fiscal 2023.
Manger outlined plans to bring the force to 2,126 sworn employees at a full-year rate and 78 sworn employees at a half-year rate, which would equate to a total of 2,165 full-time employees. The request also includes funding for the equivalent of 596 full-time civilian employees.
The budget request would also improve the police fleet, provide technical and physical security equipment upgrades and pay for non-personnel enhancements. But Manger and members of the Senate panel focused mainly on staffing.
In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, the Capitol Police experienced record levels of attrition, ultimately leading to the use of contract security officers in 2022 to fill gaps left by departing officers. Capitol Police lost between 140 and 150 officers from Jan. 6, 2021, to Jan. 6, 2022, an attrition rate double that of other years, Manger has said. And at one point in 2022, the department was 300 officers short of what he said was necessary.
“There’s one big reason that we’re facing the attrition that we’re facing, and that is that officers are being burnt out,” Manger said.
Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., noted that many police departments, fire departments and other public safety organizations across the country are struggling to hire new staff.
But Manger said a retention bonus that the Capitol Police has been able to offer, and plans to offer again in fiscal 2024, as well as recent pay scale improvements, have made the department more attractive to newcomers. Manger also said he recently lifted the mandatory retirement age from 57 years old to 60, which has aided in retention.
More officers are needed to cover more ground, including outside of the Capitol complex during the lead up to the 2024 presidential election and in response to increased threats against members, which Manger said are up approximately 400 percent over the last six years.
The budget request includes funds to expand threat investigation capabilities and enhance security operations for members and their families in D.C. and in their home districts and to bolster security at national political conventions.
“We must be adequately staffed to handle these events. We are not currently,” Manger said.
The chief also noted the rise in “heated political rhetoric,” which increases the risk of future security incidents.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., questioned Manger on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision earlier this year to share 40,000 hours of footage from the Jan. 6 attack with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Carlson then used that footage to spin a “false narrative” about the event and claim that the rioters were mostly peaceful, according to Van Hollen.
“Can you talk about the impact this false narrative has had on the men and women who work for you?” Van Hollen asked.
“The following day when he did that program I put out a message to all of my employees and I talked to them about the narrative that he tried to put forth, how disrespectful it was to the men and women of the Capitol Police,” Manger said. “I think what was fortunate was that narrative that Mr. Carlson tried to put out had no legs. I think most folks understood exactly what it was.”