Sunday, October 24, 2021

AP interview: Capitol police chief sees rising threats

WASHINGTON — The force, still struggling six months after an insurgency that left its officers battling, bloodied and wounded, “doesn’t risk being complacent,” the newly installed chief of US Capitol police says can lift.” The risk for lawmakers is greater than ever. And the threat from lone wolf attackers is increasing.

In an interview with the Associated Press, J Thomas Manger said his force is seeing a historically high number of threats against lawmakers, thousands more than just a few years ago. He predicts that officials will respond to some 9,000 threats against members of Congress in 2021 – more than 4,100 were reported from January to March.

“We have never received threats of the level we are seeing today against members of Congress,” Mangar said. “Clearly, we’ve got a bigger job in terms of the protection aspect of our responsibilities, we’ve got a bigger job than before.”

After being widely criticized by the department for poor preparation to stop the rebel mob in January, Manger touted changes to intelligence gathering. Officials had compiled intelligence that showed white supremacists and other extremists were likely to gather in Washington on January 6 and violent disruptions were possible. Policemen were brutally beaten up in stone pelting.

The events of that day have redefined how the US Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies in Washington approach security. The extreme measures taken two weeks ago for a rally in support of those jailed in the riots are not a one-off, they could be the new normal. Inspired by former President Donald Trump, the awakening of domestic extremist groups and the continued instability around the 2020 election have changed the calculations.

Manger said it was a prudent decision to put up temporary fencing around the Capitol and call in reinforcements. It may not be the same for every performance.

“It would really depend on the intelligence we already have,” he said. “It will depend on the likelihood of violence at a particular performance.”

From Manger, the police force got the lawman for a long time. He served as the chief in Montgomery County, Maryland, outside Washington from 2004 to 2019. Prior to that, he headed the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department. Those jobs, as well as a leadership position at the Major Cities Chiefs Association, have made him a well-known face in Washington law enforcement circles and on Capitol Hill.

He took office in late July, months after the former premier resigned amid the fallout of the rebellion. The September 18 rally was Manger’s first test—and he wasn’t taking any chances.

“We were just in a position where we couldn’t allow another 6 January,” he said. “And I really needed to make sure that the men and women of the Capitol Police Department understood that we had the resources we needed, the training we needed, the equipment we needed, and the staffing we needed to make sure they did what they needed to do. Can do their job and do it safely.”

In the end, the police overtook the demonstrators and Capitol officials were mocked by some for drowning. But Michael Chertoff, a Homeland Security secretary during the George W. Bush administration, said it’s just smart policing to learn from mistakes and prepare better next time, and so what if there’s a lot of police miling around – if the consequences are none. is killed or injured.

“When you get demonstrations that advertise or pitch right-wing or left-wing extremists, I think you’re going to see them leaning into a visual show of safety, probably more than they need. It is enough to make it clear that they will not be overwhelmed again,” he said.

Chertoff, who now runs the Chertoff Group Security and Cybersecurity Risk Management, said such fortifications would not be necessary for every free speech program planned in the nation’s capital, but law enforcement should be better prepared when It comes down to those who have expressed sympathy. 6 January, because there is strong reason to believe that they sympathize with the idea of ​​using violent force to disrupt the government. Because it has already happened.

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The Capitol Police is a partial security agency, part of the local police – it has an annual budget of approximately $460 million and has approximately 2,300 officers and civilian staff, including all lawmakers and staff on the Capitol grounds and those inside the building. In contrast, the entire city of Minneapolis has about 800 sworn officers and a budget of about $193 million.

At least nine people present there were killed during and after the January 6 riots, including a woman who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into a House chamber and three other Trump supporters. who had faced a medical emergency. Two police officers died by suicide in the days immediately thereafter, and a third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Siknick, collapsed and died after engaging with protesters. A medical examiner later determined that he died of natural causes.

The Metropolitan Police announced this summer that two more of their officers who responded to the revolt, Officers Kyle Defretag and Gunther Hashida, had also died by suicide.

A scathing internal report earlier this year found that serious gaps in tactical gear, including weapons, training and intelligence capabilities, contributed to security problems during the January 6 melee. In his report obtained by the AP, Capitol Inspector General of Police Michael A. Bolton expressed serious doubts about the ability of the force to respond to future threats and another large-scale attack.

But a second task force, charged for review later on January 6, said Capitol Police already have the ability to “track, assess, plan or respond” to threats from domestic extremists potentially targeting the building. continue.

The report recommended a major security reform, including the funding of hundreds of new officer positions and the establishment of a permanent “quick response force” for emergencies.

But those changes will require a massive influx of money. In a $2.1 billion measure in July, Congress delegated approximately $71 million, with most of that money going to cover overtime costs.

Still, Manger said, “I think what we have today is an improvement compared to a year ago or even nine months ago.”

The incident, which Republican lawmakers and Trump and his allies have sought to downplay and dismiss, has prompted a surge in applications to join the force. Manager compared it to police and firefighting applications after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The manager also defended Capital Police Officer Yogananda Pitman, who had led intelligence operations for the agency before the January attack. Pittman, who had been promoted to acting chief of staff with one term, was forced to defend intelligence and congressional leaders, due to a vote of no confidence from rank-and-file officers on the force and questions about intelligence and leadership failures. is in charge.

Manger pointed to Pittman’s decision as acting chief to implement the inspector general’s recommendations and to expand the department’s internal intelligence capabilities to prevent officials from relying so heavily on intelligence gathered by other law enforcement agencies. not be needed. Several top officials had left their positions after the January attacks.

But Manger hit back at critics who have said Pittman should have been let go after her tenure as acting chief because she was the top intelligence official before the rebellion.

“There’s this notion that I should come in and fire everyone on the leadership team because they failed on January 6th… First of all, this department was in enough chaos without me firing everyone,” Manger said, “And then where would I be without any experience my leadership team has to rely on and help me move forward?”

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