WASHINGTON – About 130 Capitol Hill police officers have left since the Jan.6 uprising, according to the department, including a federal watchdog told a Senate panel on Tuesday that raised concerns about overtime and the recruitment.
“They’ve shrunk (down) drastically and they need to bring in… people who can increase that,” Michael Bolton, Capitol Inspector General of Police, told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.
Bolton told the committee that about 200 officers had left. But Capitol Police said 130 officers had left since the first pay period of the year.
About 140 officers were injured in the Capitol riot and five have died since then.
Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died the day after of a stroke. Two others – Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood and Metro Police Officer Jeffrey Smith, who responded to the riot – committed suicide days later. Metro police officers Gunther Hashida and Kyle DeFreytag, who also responded to the attack, committed suicide in July.
The Senate panel released a report in June jointly with the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs which found that U.S. intelligence officials had failed to warn of potential mob violence and were delaying obtaining National Guard reinforcements for the Capitol police.
Bolton said morale in the department has improved since then, but officers are waiting to see what kind of support Congress provides. Congress is still debating funding for the department and the rest of government for the year that began October 1.
A House task force, led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, studied the Capitol Police and found that the force of around 2,000 officers had 233 vacancies and spent 55% of its overtime for the year in its first five months. The April report recommended the creation of 854 additional jobs, including 350 to reduce overtime and 424 to cover tasks such as intelligence gathering.
“This work is crucial to securing the work of the Capitol,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Who heads the committee.
But other senators have voiced concerns about filling vacancies and increasing funding.
Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Said never getting more than 90% of the department’s positions filled could argue for creating niches that do not require the same training skills.
To provide immediate assistance to officers, the Bolton Police Department and the Capitol Police Board are discussing whether to augment police officers in certain stations with courtroom-like security guards , who could use metal detectors at the doors. Such a change could reduce overtime, give officers time off and allow for officer training, Bolton said.
In addition to contributing to staff shortages and chronic overtime, departures are a concern as it takes nearly a year to train new officers for congressional and building oversight work, Bolton said.
Hiring an officer requires one year of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, followed by on-the-job training with another officer.
“The department is actively recruiting,” Bolton said.
Bolton completed seven reports on Jan.6, making 104 recommendations to improve training and intelligence gathering for the department to prevent another attack. Its eighth report, which will be completed soon, will focus on how the ministry has responded so far, with 30 recommendations completed.
Bolton said a major improvement came with the hiring of a retired Secret Service agent, who helped plan major events. Senators hailed the response to a September 18 rally of about 450 distant combat protesters. The fences rose and fell quickly after the event.
“They’re cut from a different fabric,” Bolton said of experienced officers trained in intelligence gathering.