Behind the Strategic Failure of the Capitol Police

“It wasn’t just the building that had them horrified. In the past two decades, the Capitol Police has grown into one of the largest, best-funded and most single-focus police departments in the country, with a budget of more than $460 million and around 2,000 sworn officers to guard just 2 square miles of the capital. (By comparison, that’s half the size of the entire police force for Washington, D.C.)”

“Appalled experts, watching the crisis unfold, asked themselves: Where was the protective intelligence? Where was the quick reaction force? Where were the long guns? Where were the helmets and batons? Where were the tall, secure fences that normally ring the Capitol during high-profile protests? And perhaps most important: Where was the strategy? Word on Thursday evening that the Capitol Police evidently twice turned down offers of reinforcements only deepened the sense of disbelief.”

“Minute by minute, individual officers sometimes acted bravely, but hour by hour, Wednesday’s events demonstrated a top-to-bottom failure by a key federal law-enforcement agency. The crisis can’t even be called a failure of imagination, as 9/11 is sometimes seen, because in many ways the idea that the pro-Trump mob might march on the Capitol to disrupt the proceedings inside seemed all but obvious. Nor was this an incident that just slipped under the radar. The joint session inside was the single biggest news event in the United States that day, and the rioters had been planning disruptive protest for weeks, in the open.”

“The Capitol Police, which until the 1990s had perennially struggled for resources—more a team of security guards than an elite force—has undergone a sea change since four Capitol-altering events: The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, a 1998 attempt by a gunman to storm the House whip’s office, the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent spate of anthrax-laced letters targeting Capitol Hill leaders. Until those events, most members of Congress saw little value in its police force beyond, as one police leader told me, “Where’s my parking space, and can I get a better one?”
The Capitol Police, as much as any federal law enforcement agency, has been the huge beneficiary of the boom in government security spending, nearly tripling in size in the past quarter century—in no small part because it’s the agency in charge of protecting those who appropriate the money in the first place. It has also consolidated its control of Capitol Hill, merging in 2009 with the previously separate Library of Congress police.

Today, the Capitol Police boasts advanced resources equal to the largest and best police departments in the country, including a bomb squad, intelligence unit, hazmat units and specialized dignitary protection agents, as well as crowd control and riot gear and access to an arsenal of weapons that would impress many small armies. Its officers are well-wired with other local and regional police departments and participate in FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Plus it has the entire federal government and numerous local and regional D.C. police departments to call upon for help when needed.

And, at its core, its whole job is to protect about 270 acres, a land mass less than a third the size of New York’s Central Park—including, and especially, the 58-acre Capitol and grounds itself. That unusual balance—immense resources and an extremely specific zone to protect—makes its colossal failure Wednesday so much more stunning to law enforcement experts.”

“The Capitol Police should, in theory, have had the crowd-control skills to meet the moment. It’s an agency uniquely experienced in handling First Amendment protests and protesters—on issues as varied as abortion rights, health care or anti-war activists. After run-of-the-mill traffic offenses, protest-related arrests account for the majority of the department’s total arrests; it probably arrests and confronts more protesters than any other police department in the country. Nor are the Capitol Police a stranger to securing high-profile events, from presidential State of the Union addresses to the inauguration set for later this month on the very scaffolding and stands that the Trump mob rampaged over Wednesday.”

“The failure to plan meant that the die was cast as soon as the Trump mob began walking to the Capitol. In the military, the saying goes “prior planning prevents piss-poor performance,” and the Capitol Police lost the battle for Congress on Wednesday hundreds of yards away from its famous steps—as soon as the mob pushed over and past the first low metal fence far down on the west grounds of the approach to the building.
But from there, the department continued to fail, collapsing in a way familiar to any 19th-century general watching an army in retreat. At every turn, officers seemed at a loss to respond, indicating both training lapses and catastrophic leadership failures. There were failures at the start: A video, with unclear context, circulated on social media of Capitol Police even opening and removing barricades to allow the rioters close to the Capitol. There were failures as it unfolded: Other videos showed officers posing for selfies with rioters inside occupied Capitol office buildings. And there were failures as the crisis wound down: An officer even held a woman’s hand as she was escorted out of the building and down the steps. By late afternoon, police had made fewer arrests (13) in the storming of the U.S. Capitol than are typically made at the New York Giants stadium during a home game (21).

It took more than five hours for control to be reestablished, and only after thousands more law enforcement and military resources were rushed to the Capitol from across the city and neighboring states—resources desperately requested from the Pentagon and the FBI, among others, that Capitol Police leaders had turned down in the days and hours ahead of the mob’s arrival.”

Police reform was a big winner this election

“Despite being a contentious issue across party lines, voters..in cities in six states overwhelmingly approved 18 of these ballot measures, including creating and improving police oversight boards, changing police department staffing and funding, and requiring public access to police body and dashboard camera recordings. While most of these measures are a step toward reform, almost none are radical in terms of reimagining policing. Many are standards already implemented in other cities — and a bare minimum for police accountability, activists say.”

Support For Black Lives Matter Surged During Protests, But Is Waning Among White Americans

“The recent protests against police brutality are some of the largest and most widespread in American history. An estimated 15 million to 26 million Americans have taken to the streets to protest police violence and advocate for Black lives.

The remarkable size and scope of these demonstrations has translated into real policy gains, too. Dozens of state and local police reforms have been enacted since the protests started. And at the federal level, President Trump signed an executive order that outlines his administration’s priorities for police reform, including creating a national database that catalogues police misconduct. The House of Representatives passed an even more ambitious piece of legislation that proposes a series of reforms, like tying federal funding to bans on chokeholds and setting up a task force to address excessive police force, but the GOP-controlled Senate hasn’t taken it up.

Arguably, though, the protests’ impact on public opinion has been even more immediate and wide-ranging. Unfavorable views of the police, acknowledgement of widespread discrimination against African Americans and support for Black Lives Matter all jumped up by at least 10 percentage points, according to tracking polls conducted shortly before and after the protests by both Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape and Civiqs.

These changes in public opinion are being driven in large part by white Americans, who for years have been much less likely than Black Americans to acknowledge that racial inequality remains a real problem. Since the first wave of large-scale Black Lives Matter protests in 2014, white Americans’ racial attitudes have gradually become more liberalized while Black Americans’ views have remained relatively steady.

Trump’s many offensive statements may be contributing to this trend, as they seem to be driving Democrats, particularly white Democrats, to adopt more liberal views on race in response. That’s one reason so many white Democrats showed up at the most recent protests.

But the protests’ impact on public opinion appears to be fading — particularly among white Americans”

“unfavorable views of the police are trending back down toward their pre-protest levels among white Americans and have dipped among Black Americans. White respondents are also becoming somewhat less likely to say that African Americans face “a lot” or “a great deal” of discrimination, though those numbers remain higher than they were before before George Floyd was killed in May. Black Americans’ views on the discrimination they face have remained essentially unchanged.”

“This decline in public opinion is consistent with a long line of political science research that tells us that the effects of events on public opinion tend to last only for as long as they are at the forefront of the country’s — or, in this case, one group’s — collective consciousness. That also means that without prolonged activism and sustained media attention, the impact of this year’s protests on white public opinion could evaporate entirely.”

California Police Unions Once Again Side With Bad Cops To Kill a Good Bill

“California is one of only five states that does not have a formal process for decertifying bad cops to keep them from finding patrol work. And it looks like it’s going to stay that way.

In the middle of a massive push for policing reforms in America, law enforcement unions have defeated S.B. 731, a California bill that would have created a commission to hear cases of cops who have engaged in misconduct and determine whether they’d be stripped of their certifications.”

“Several law enforcement unions in the state say they want a process in place to decertify bad cops. They even made a web page to insist that they support things like a database of officers who have been fired for misconduct, and “a fair, reasonable and workable decertification process.” But they object to Bradford’s commission because only three of the nine members would be police officers. Four of the other members would be members of nonprofit or academic institutions and community-based organizations that have experience on “issues related to police misconduct.” One member would be a citizen who has been a survivor of police misconduct (or a relative of somebody who did not survive misconduct). And one would be an attorney with “experience involving oversight of police officers.” Police unions determined that this newly created board would be, in the Associated Press’s words, “inherently biased against officers.””

“The cops and the unions want too much control over what is and is not considered “misconduct.” Time and again, Americans have seen these organizations use their power to defend and make excuses for terrible police behavior. Their ideal form of “due process” for police officers facing misconduct allegations is an ostensibly civilian commission that police control.”

The Cops Took This Guy’s $15,000 Jeep Because His Girlfriend Allegedly Used It for a $25 Marijuana Sale

“Tucson handyman Kevin McBride was hard at work one Friday last May when his girlfriend offered to get him a cold drink from a convenience store. She took his Jeep, his sole means of transportation and the basis of his livelihood. Then the cops took his Jeep, and local prosecutors are now demanding a $1,900 ransom before he can get it back.

This sort of shakedown would be clearly felonious if ordinary criminals attempted it. But as McBride discovered, it is legal under Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture law. The cops said McBride’s girlfriend had used his Jeep to sell a small amount of marijuana to an undercover officer for $25. Although the charges against her were dropped, the Jeep is still being held as a party to that alleged offense, and McBride has to pay for the privilege of getting his property back.”

Another Rogue Cop Just Got Qualified Immunity. The Judge Who Gave It to Him Isn’t Happy About It.

“A federal judge this week gave a blistering rebuke of qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that makes it difficult to sue police officers in federal court when they violate your civil rights.

“The Constitution says everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law—even at the hands of law enforcement,” wrote Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in a majority decision released yesterday. “Over the decades, however, judges have invented a legal doctrine to protect law enforcement officers from having to face any consequences for wrongdoing. The doctrine is called ‘qualified immunity.’ In real life it operates like absolute immunity.””

“to overcome qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s misconduct had been “clearly established” by existing case law—the standard pulled out of thin air by the Supreme Court in Harlow v. Fitzgerald (1982). In practice, this criterion requires that plaintiffs show a public official’s misbehavior is prohibited almost verbatim by a previous ruling from the same federal circuit or from the Supreme Court. That requirement is nearly impossible to meet. “This Court is required to apply the law as stated by the Supreme Court,” Reeves writes. “Under that law, the officer who transformed a short traffic stop into an almost two-hour, life-altering ordeal is entitled to qualified immunity. The officer’s motion seeking as much is therefore granted.”

It is not unheard of for a federal judge to show disdain for his own ruling. They are required to enforce precedents established by the Supreme Court, even when doing so defies common sense. (Federal judges can also be seen decrying the mandatory minimum sentences they are required by Congress to impose on defendants who meet statutory criteria.)

A review of current qualified immunity decisions is instructive. The legal doctrine has protected two cops who allegedly stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant; a sheriff’s deputy who shot a 10-year-old boy while aiming at the child’s non-threatening dog; a prison guard who forced a naked inmate to sleep in cells filled with raw sewage and “massive amounts” of human feces; two cops who assaulted and arrested a man for the crime of standing outside of his own house; two officers who sicced a police dog on a surrendered suspect. That list is not exhaustive.”

“The Supreme Court has declined to hear a slew of qualified immunity cases and instead volleyed responsibility back to Congress. While such decisions should arguably be made by Congress, the Supreme Court created the very problem it now wants no part in solving.

“I do not envy the task before the Supreme Court. Overturning qualified immunity will undoubtedly impact our society,” Reeves writes. “Yet, the status quo is extraordinary and unsustainable. Just as the Supreme Court swept away the mistaken doctrine of ‘separate but equal,’ so too should it eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity.””

Judge Orders Federal Officers in Portland To Stop Harassing and Assaulting Journalists and Legal Observers

“The ACLU’s complaint, filed on behalf of the Portland Mercury, eight journalists, and two observers working with the ACLU, alleges that federal agents stationed at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse have joined local police in violating those principles. On July 12, for instance, federal officers shot photographer Mathieu Lewis-Rolland 10 times with “impact munitions” that left “severe lacerations, welts, and bruises all over his upper body.” According to the Geneva Guidelines on Less-Lethal Weapons and Related Equipment in Law Enforcement, such projectiles “should generally only be used in direct fire against the lower body of a violent individual when a substantial risk exists of immediate serious injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.”

The complaint alleges many similar abuses by Portland police, including the gratuitous use of tear gas and rubber bullets, unprovoked beatings, unlawful arrests, and other interference with activities protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU says the plaintiffs who have suffered such abuse were clearly identified as journalists or legal observers.

The lawsuit also complains that Portland police have routinely violated Simon’s June 9 order barring them from using tear gas at the protests except when “the lives or safety of the public or the police are at risk.” Simon said tear gas should not be used simply “to disperse crowds where there is no or little risk of injury.” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, got a taste of his own medicine on Wednesday night, when he was gassed by federal officers while vainly trying to show protesters that he was united with them in opposing the Trump administration’s response to the demonstrations.

The protests in Portland have been happening every day since May 28, three days after a Minneapolis police officer suffocated George Floyd. The federal officers, who according to an internal memo have not been trained in controlling riots or mass demonstrations, were deployed by the Trump administration this month, ostensibly to protect the courthouse and other federal property. But as Nancy Rommelman notes, the federal presence seems to have inflamed the situation, provoking the vandalism and assaults on the courthouse that the administration now cites to justify its involvement.”

Justice Department Finds Massachusetts Drug Squad Regularly Uses Excessive Force and Covers It Up

“A police narcotics unit in Springfield, Massachusetts, regularly uses excessive force on suspects, including punching them in the face, and frequently fails to document the incidents or falsifies reports, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a report”

“The report also found it was “not uncommon for Narcotics Bureau officers to write false or incomplete narratives that justify their uses of force.”
Justice Department investigators cited one instance where an injury report of an arrestee only noted “small cuts to the face.” However, pictures of the man “clearly show severe contusions and dark bruising on the right side of his face, a large black eye, a gash on the bridge of his nose, and additional abrasions on the left side of his face and the left side of his nose.”

Because of rampant underreporting of use-of-force incidents, the use of vague language to obscure the extent of injuries, and the outright falsification of police reports, the Justice Department concluded that excessive force incidents were likely more widespread than the many violations captured in its report.

And there was little to no discipline for officers involved in those civil rights violations. Because of poor reporting requirements, lax supervisor oversight, and lazy internal affairs reviews, the report found that there was not a single sustained excessive force finding against a member of the narcotics team over the past six years.”

“The Justice Department’s investigation of the Springfield Police Department is notable because it is, so far, the only probe of an entire police department launched by the Justice Department under Trump.
The Obama administration launched a record number of so-called “pattern or practice” investigations into systemic civil rights violations by police departments, including in Baltimore, Chicago, and Ferguson, Missouri.

However, the Trump Justice Department, especially under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, backed away from the aggressive use of these investigations. Sessions said he never read the Justice Department’s scathing report on civil rights violations by the Chicago Police Department, but he nevertheless said such investigations unfairly maligned whole police departments and improperly used the power of the federal government to coerce municipal governments into court-enforced settlements, called “consent decrees.”

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said in a Justice Department press release that the Springfield Police Department and the city “have fully cooperated with this investigation and have made clear their commitment to genuine reform.””