U.S. Capitol Police chief describes preparations for possible post-election turmoil

US Capitol

by Jennifer Shutt, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

April 10, 2024

WASHINGTON — U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger sought to ease concerns from the lawmakers in charge of his agency’s budget on Wednesday, saying the department is preparing for major upcoming events — including another potential Jan. 6 — by trying to grow the size of its force and overhauling its intelligence gathering activities.

During an hour-long hearing in front of the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, Manger argued the agency is far better positioned than in the past to address the safety of members both in the Capitol complex and at their residences, though at one point he said USCP’s “resources are strained.”

Manger also noted USCP has fallen behind and is trying to enhance protection for House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, and Senate Speaker pro tempore Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, since they are second and third in the line of presidential succession, respectively.

The U.S. Secretary of State, who sits fourth in the line of succession below both those lawmakers, has a security detail three times larger than anything USCP provides, Manger told the committee.

“We know we’ve got to expand the protection for the individuals that are in the line of succession,” he said. “We can’t just go back to the days when we said, ‘Well, we’ll just follow them around and we’ll make sure they’re well protected wherever they are,’ because their homes, their families are at risk.”

Improvements since insurrection

Several members of the panel pressed Manger about how exactly the agency has updated its thinking, staffing and tactics since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol building by pro-Trump rioters. Dozens of police officers were injured in that attack and two law enforcement officers died as a result of that day.

The insurrection disrupted Congress certifying the Electoral College votes to affirm President Joe Biden’s win in the election. That was the first time the United States didn’t have a peaceful transition of power.

Votes must be certified again by Congress on Jan. 6, 2025, following this November’s presidential election.

Illinois Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley asked Manger during the hearing about USCP’s response plan for a threat that would require additional police officers to come in quickly.

Manger said the department has already started preparing for the “election, the next January 6, the inauguration.”

“We already have committed hundreds of police officers from allied organizations. And by the time we get to those dates, we could have thousands of trained law enforcement officers… So the cavalry will be here on site for all the big events.”

Manger said USCP is able to maintain relationships with other law enforcement agencies, in part, because those other agencies are reimbursed for helping.

In addition to keeping that funding stream available, USCP needs the spending panel to preserve retention bonuses to try to reduce attrition.

“We need for people to stay for the conventions, for the election, for the next January 6, for the inauguration and beyond,” Manger said, implying retention bonuses will help to do that.

Anticipating a threat

One of the largest criticisms of USCP following the Jan. 6 attack was that its intelligence operation failed to realize the extent of the threat to the Capitol and the lawmakers inside, an issue that Manger said has been addressed in the last three years.

“It’s night and day,” he said.

“We have U.S. Capitol Police employees that are sitting in joint operation centers, that are sitting in other agencies, so that we immediately get that information,” he testified. “But we’re also doing two things that weren’t being done very well before, in my view.”

The USCP is now analyzing intelligence to see what threats are credible and sharing those with its own officers on a daily basis.

The department also has a new working relationship with the National Guard, including Manger’s ability to call up troops without needing to wait on anyone else’s approval, though he seemed wary of doing that during a crisis.

“I will tell you that the National Guard is terrific,” Manger said. “But what I really need is trained, equipped law enforcement officers, who are trained in crowd control, civil disturbance. And, again, if we need it, we will have thousands of those on our campus.”

Outside of responding to possibly large-scale attacks on Congress, USCP should expand its presence at airports in the Washington, D.C. area, according to the panel’s ranking member Adriano Espaillat, a New York Democrat.

Lawmakers traveling through airports, Espaillat said, “are subject to threats.”

“I think there needs to be a greater presence in the airport,” he said.

Manger said USCP tries to “accommodate” all lawmakers who request police escorts through airports and noted it has people at the three main airports in the Washington, D.C., region.

Police budget

The fiscal 2025 budget request for Capitol Police proposes that Congress approve $636.5 million for salaries and $263.8 million for general expenses.

USCP’s current funding bill, approved in March, provides the agency with a total spending level of $791.5 million, with $588.6 million of that dedicated to salaries and $202.8 million for general expenses.

The House and Senate Appropriations committees will likely release their respective spending bills in the late spring or early summer. The spending process is unlikely to wrap up before Election Day.

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