Quantcast

Short-staffed and overworked: Capitol Police struggle after months of trauma

Members of the Capitol Police pay respects to officer Brian Sicknick as he lays in honor in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI, AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES/TNS

By CHRIS MARQUETTE | CQ-Roll Call | Published: April 7, 2021

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — After an off-duty Capitol Police officer learned Friday that shots were fired near the Capitol, the officer called a colleague who was on duty and in tears.

Earlier that afternoon, Noah Green slammed the blue car he was driving into two Capitol Police Officers, killing Officer William “Billy” Evans and injuring Officer Kenny Shaver. Capitol Police officers rushed Evans to the hospital in a cruiser.

“So all I’m thinking is they’re at [the hospital] covered in blood, just freaking out,” the off-duty officer told CQ Roll Call.

The fatal assault marked the third death of a Capitol Police officer this year in what has arguably been one of the most trying stretches of time in the department’s almost 200-year history.

Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died after suffering injuries when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Just days later, another officer, Howard Liebengood, died by suicide. Eighty officers were seriously injured during the insurrection, according to the police force’s union. Countless other officers are living with severe trauma from the attack but continue to work forced overtime.

The manner of last week’s attack — by a lone assailant driving through the Capitol complex — is also top of mind to those who work in the department.

“That could happen to any single person standing out on a corner at one of our posts at any single time,” a second officer said of Evans’ death. “So I think that’s what hit home for a lot of people.”

“It’s not only hitting home to us, but our families are really suffering now because they’re fearing for our lives,” the officer added.

The officers requested anonymity to speak candidly about the ongoing trauma sustained by many in the force of 1,839 officers.

Officers are now on high alert when a car passes by, a frequent occurrence for any of them stationed outside during a shift.

“It’s terrifying. You know it makes everybody concerned about just every minute of being on duty, which sometimes you forget about,” the first officer said. “And even now, you still forget about it but then it comes back to, you know, looking around and looking behind you and worrying about the cars going by.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York announced Tuesday that Evans will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on April 13. Sicknick was honored in the Rotunda Feb. 3.

Evans, an 18-year veteran of the department, was remembered by his family as “the best father, son, brother, and friend anyone could ever hope for.”

The family’s statement said his most cherished moments were those spent with his two children, Logan and Abigail, including lightsaber duels and the “Harry Potter” series.

“Their dad was their hero long before the tragic events of last week,” the family said in the statement.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré and his task force prepared a report after the Jan. 6 insurrection on how to improve security at the Capitol complex. It found that Capitol Police “were understaffed, insufficiently equipped, and inadequately trained to secure the Capitol and Members” when the violent mob stormed the building.

Honoré’s team noted that 233 vacancies and increased work demands have resulted in an “unsustainable” model of overtime use in the force, which is authorized to have 2,072 officers. There were almost 720,000 overtime hours across the force in fiscal 2020 alone. The report recommended that Capitol Police add a total of 854 positions.

The staffing shortfall, coupled with increased requirements to guard entry points at the inner fence around the complex (the outer fence was taken down at the end of March at the behest of lawmakers), has resulted in low morale and officers regularly working so much they say they barely see their families. Further complicating matters, there are hundreds of officers eligible to retire over the next five years and others want to leave.

“We’re already very short. People are quitting every day,” the first officer said. “Basically every single person I know is looking for another job. Just applications everywhere.”

A security supplemental funding bill is in the works to boost security resources at the Capitol complex and will be a priority when lawmakers return to Washington next week.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro touted the need for the security supplemental bill.

“We must improve intelligence collection and review, bolster the capacity and training of the Capitol Police, and make physical security improvements to the Capitol Complex,” the Connecticut Democrat said in a statement Monday.

It has been over a month since Honoré’s report was released to the public and Congress has yet to act on the supplemental, an issue that is extremely time sensitive, according to the second officer.

“When you go home, you kiss your kids at night, or you kiss your kids in the morning before you come to work,” the officer said. “That might be your last time because we don’t have the measures in place to take care of us and, unfortunately, that comes down to Congress.”

The officer noted that Honoré gave explicit instructions on what is needed, but action implementing any of his recommendations has been slow and officers continue to work under dire circumstances.

“How long is this supplemental going to take before we lose more officers not only to death, but to retirements or just people leaving the department?”

(c)2021 CQ Roll Call
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC