Latest Attack Pushes U.S. Capitol Police Further Toward Crisis

WASHINGTON -
A Capitol Police officer patrols with a rifle on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The U.S. Capitol Police are struggling.

One officer was killed and another injured when a driver slammed into them at a barricade Friday afternoon.

The attack comes after officers were overrun and injured when a violent mob overran the Capitol on Jan. 6, breaking through insufficient barriers and pushing their way to within steps of lawmakers. Two officers died.

Scores of officers are considering early retirement, top leaders have resigned and those in office face increasing criticism. Security concerns over the events of the past four months may alter not only how the department operates, but also whether the historically public grounds can remain open.

The head of the Capitol Police union said officers are “reeling” following the death on Friday of Officer Billy Evans, who was on the force for 18 years. He was struck at a Capitol entrance by a man who, according to investigators, suffered from delusions.

Evans’s death comes after Officer Brian Sicknick, who was among hundreds of officers trying to fight off rioters without the necessary equipment or planning, died following the Jan. 6 riot. Officer Howard Liebengood died shortly afterward.

Hundreds of officers are considering retirement or finding jobs elsewhere, union chair Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement. “They continue to work even as we rapidly approach a crisis in morale and force numbers,” he said, noting that officers are dealing with “massive amounts of forced overtime.”

Dozens of officers were injured on Jan. 6 and others have been held out of work during an internal investigation into the department’s response, including the officer who fatally shot a 35-year-old woman attempting to climb through a broken window as she and others massed at a barricaded doorway. That’s further depleted a force that has more than 200 vacant positions, roughly 10% of its authorized force level.

In the months since the insurrection, many officers have routinely worked 12-hour days or longer to protect the building during Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration and impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump.

Steven Sund, who resigned in January as the agency’s chief amid scrutiny over whether the police force was adequately prepared for the riot, told The Associated Press that officers he had spoken to were “on edge.”

The grief and crises that have engulfed the Capitol Police are also part of broader social forces that have tested the country, Sund said.

“There’s the impact of the pandemic on the American psyche,” Sund said. “There’s a lot of stuff in social media and a lot of action in reference to the actions of law enforcement. Law enforcement have been attacked in cities around the country. So there’s just a lot of things gearing up that make 2020, 2021 a little unique.”

The Capitol Police are not a typical law enforcement agency. The roughly 2,000 officers are responsible solely for protecting Congress — its members, visitors and facilities, an area of about 16 acres.

The department dates back to the early 1800s, after President John Quincy Adams asked that a police force be established to help protect the building following incidents there. Now they have an operating budget of $460 million.

The driver in Friday’s incident, 25-year-old Noah Green, was shot by officers shortly after emerging from the vehicle wielding a knife, authorities said. Green died later at a hospital. There is no known connection between the insurrection and Green, who described himself in online posts as being under government thought control and being watched.

New concrete barriers are in place around the checkpoint where Evans and a colleague were standing guard north of the Capitol. But the attack underscores that the Capitol will always be a target, said retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who chaired a task force that made several security recommendations following the insurrection.

The task force called for a renewed push to fill the 233 open positions on the force and for Congress to fund 350 new jobs and new fencing systems and other infrastructure. The task force also wants Congress to give the Capitol Police chief new authority to seek National Guard support in a crisis.

Reporting by the Associated Press