Capitol Police riot unit suffered before insurrection, watchdog finds
The Capitol Police unit tasked with containing violent protests is so disorganized and outdated that officers “actively find ways to circumvent getting assigned there,” according to an internal review of the department’s failures ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on Congress.
And little has been done since the insurrection to reform the so-called Civil Disturbance Unit, Inspector General Michael Bolton found. The unit’s procedures — deemed outdated by internal audits as far back as July 2020 — remained unchanged as of March. A planned training for the unit alongside the Secret Service “has not materialized,” according to a congressional memo describing Bolton’s findings.
Bolton’s indictment of the Civil Disturbance Unit, or CDU, is the centerpiece of a scathing report that’s set to be the focus of a highly anticipated House hearing on Thursday. The watchdog’s inquiry found a tangle of outdated, ignored and conflicting policies that allowed the Jan. 6 riot to spiral out of control, and lawmakers are likely to question Bolton on potential sweeping reforms of Capitol security that could remake the department.
His report lands on the Hill as the Capitol Police are facing their most intense trauma in recent history — with officers increasingly strained by understaffing and the repercussions of Jan. 6 as well as a violent vehicle attack on a Capitol checkpoint that left one officer dead earlier this month. That officer, Billy Evans, laid in honor in the Capitol rotunda on Tuesday.
The inspector general found that the Capitol Police’s failures also extended to the department’s intelligence reporting, which Bolton said buried alarming information about threats facing the Capitol while highlighting language that minimized concerns. But dysfunction within the Civil Disturbance Unit hung over his conclusions, many of which were first reported last week by CNN.
“CDU was operating at a decreased level of readiness,” Bolton concluded, “as a result of a lack of standards for equipment, deficiencies noted from the events of January 6, 2021, a lapse in certain certifications, an inaccurate CDU roster, staffing concerns for the unit, quarterly audits that were not performed, and property inventories not in compliance with guidance.”
The majority of Bolton’s post-Jan. 6 reform proposals center on formalizing the role of CDU within the Capitol Police department. He said it had largely been treated as an informal outfit, with no staffing or leadership structure, which led to communications failures on Jan. 6.
More than 100 Capitol and D.C. police officers were injured in that day’s assault by Donald Trump supporters, and one, Brian Sicknick, collapsed and died hours after a bear spray attack by rioters.
The disturbance unit declined to deploy one of its riot control tools — a 37 mm stun grenade launcher — because “it was considered by officials to be obsolete and its functionality was in question,” according to the memo.
Other “less-lethal” weapons, like a 40mm grenade launcher and Sting Ball grenades” were not used that day because of order from leadership.” And Bolton found the CDU housed expired ammunition and failed to implement controls for equipment like riot shields that were, he found, stored improperly and potentially degraded because of improper temperature controls.
“We recommend the United States Capitol Police implement an inventory control for the armory and also recommend a Check-In/Out Log Book that requires approval by a supervisor for munitions and weapons,” Bolton concluded. “A safety inspection check performed during a check-out would prevent the Civil Disturbance Unit from deploying expired munitions.
The Capitol Police keep no official roster of officers assigned to the CDU. Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman testifying earlier this year that it included 276 officers, while internal lists reflected the count as 187.
The second set of failures Bolton identified centered on the Capitol Police’s handling of threat intelligence — and the way that information was distributed to the chief and other commanders.
“USCP did not clearly document channels for the distribution of intelligence up to the Chief of Police, down to the line officers, and across departmental entities,” the inspector general found.
Among his biggest concerns was the lack of top-secret security clearances for some intelligence-focused officers, which he said raised the risk of mishandling classified information.
Broader intelligence and communication failures compounded an already-frantic situation among the leadership of the Capitol Police on Jan. 6, when then-chief Steven Sund desperately pleaded with the Pentagon to send national guard aid, only to see his request languish for hours.
Bolton also reported that previous intelligence reports were sometimes ignored during later assessments. For example the Department of Homeland Security notified the Capitol Police that a blog — thedonald.win — referenced the underground tunnels of the Capitol complex as far back as December 21 and included several pages of alarming commentary.
The Capitol Police’s intelligence reports themselves, Bolton found, are sometimes disorganized and contradictory. In one related to Jan. 6, the “Bottom Line Up Front” assessment appeared to minimize the potential threat, indicating that officials were “tracking protests that may include some armed protestors and white supremacists. But 30 pages into the assessment, the language was far more acute, describing a threat that could “lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike.”
Bolton is encouraging the department’s intelligence reports to de-emphasize things like street closures and focus more on “threat assessments.”
The inspector general’s report — set for examination at a Thursday hearing in the House Administration Committee — does not address the three-dozen Capitol Police officers who are being investigated for their conduct on Jan. 6. Nor does it touch on alarms raised by Democrats about “suspicious” tours given by colleagues or aides in the days before the Capitol attack.
When it comes to improving performance on the Civil Disturbance Unit, however, Bolton urged the Capitol Police to find ways to encourage officers to join its ranks and to develop clear, structured operating procedures for the unit, which first drew the attention of investigators in July 2020.
Back then a quarterly audit found CDU’s operating procedures obsolete, and department officials promised to rescind them and issue new ones within 30 days. Yet, “as of March 2021, the Department had not updated” those standard operating procedures, Bolton found.