Capitol Police staffing shortages are hampering the department’s ability to train, a matter Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said is a priority for him as he seeks to rebuild a force whose deficiencies were exposed by the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“The biggest challenge I have is the staffing problem,” Manger told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Wednesday. “You can’t do training if you’re so short of staffing that you can’t pull people off of posts and send them to training.”
The department is 447 officers short of “where we need to be,” the chief said, adding that he plans to hire 280 officers this year.
Roughly 150 officers have retired or resigned over the past year, and the force can put between 1,600 and 1,700 on assignment, Manger said. On any given day, around 175 officers are on some type of leave, many of whom are out due to COVID-19, a disease that is “wreaking havoc,” according to Manger. He said there are “dozens of officers who are out on isolation” and dozens who have been “out long-term.” Over 70 percent of Capitol Police employees are vaccinated, he said.
Although it is hard to pull officers away from posts to attend training given the staffing shortfall, Manger said the Capitol Police bought VirTra police training simulators that will be placed at police headquarters, the Capitol and other areas so officers can participate in training without having to devote a full day and instead can train for a half-hour on matters such as de-escalation or use of force training.
“We encourage you to continue your work in recruiting and retaining officers,” Senate Rules Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said, noting that it “appears to be the No. 1 challenge ahead” for Manger.
A February deadline is approaching for Congress to pass the fiscal 2022 appropriations bills, including the Legislative Branch measure that funds the Capitol Police. The Senate bill would provide the department with $606.6 million, a $91 million increase over fiscal 2021.
When Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., asked Manger what the repercussions would be if the bills were not passed, the chief said it would severely affect his ability to hire the officers he so desperately needs.
“Senator, it would impact just about everything that we’re trying to do in terms of making and sustaining improvements, especially in the areas of intelligence, threat analysis, dignitary protection and security infrastructure,” Manger said. “We’d have to suspend our health and wellness initiatives that we’ve started. But I think the biggest impact would be our inability to increase our staffing, which is so critical. All we would be able to do is just replace the people that left.”
Manger said the department has been working to address many other deficiencies among the force. During the Capitol insurrection last year, many officers were left to fend off the pro-Trump rioters without helmets, face shields and gas masks that would have better protected them in the melee.
Manger said the department has given officers new hard riot gear that includes ballistic helmets, high impact eye protection and impact-protective gloves, among other equipment. Further, orders have been increased to include new shields, a dedicated response vehicle, tasers and less lethal munitions, such as FN303 and pepperball systems.
The department’s Civil Disturbance Unit, a group charged with quelling riots and large scale events, was lacking on many fronts as it faced the Jan. 6 mob. Manger said the plan is to create eight platoons with hard gear staffed by officers from the House, Senate and Library of Congress posts. However, there are limitations.
“I recognize the Committee is recommending that the CDU be established as a permanent component of the department. I do not believe that, at this time, doing so is the best use of our staffing and resources,” Manger said in prepared remarks. “Even if the CDU was set up as an independent unit, we would still need to assign those officers collateral duties so they would not remain idle for any significant period of time. Given our current vacancies, budget and the mission needs of other department components, this is something we cannot accomplish in the near term.”
The force has also established a new unit called the Bike Response Team with over 100 officers and officials to bolster CDU operations.
The way in which the department gathers, analyzes and shares information has been changed drastically, Manger said.
This includes the development of a Capitol Police intelligence product shared with the intelligence community, a daily intelligence report shared with all officers, a biweekly classified intelligence briefing and coordination with intelligence and law enforcement partners in advance of large-scale or high-profile events. The force is also on the cusp of hiring a permanent intelligence director and has added nine new intelligence analysts.
Senators expressed their gratitude for the work of the officers and for their sacrifices in defending the democratic process.
“This was not just about bread and butter, doing your job. This was actually about saving our republic, and it is what, to me, makes the Capitol Police” so important and special for the country, Klobuchar said.