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Capitol police embraced reforms but chief says staffing shortage poses hurdle

While "more prepared" for a threat than they were last year, the Capitol Police force needs more officers, its chief testified Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (CN) — One day ahead of the Jan. 6 anniversary, Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger detailed in testimony before the Senate how his department has worked to prevent the communication pitfalls and internal deficiencies that failed to stop last year's violent attack.

Major appeared Wednesday morning at a hearing of the Senate Rules Committee, where he touted the department's determination to change, having already implementing 90 of the more than 100 recommendations laid out by inspector general of the force.

From updating equipment and investing in new police shields to creating operational plans for large gatherings and joint sessions of Congress, Manger said he is committed to investing in the police force for security purposes and the morale of Capitol officers.

The Jan. 6 insurrection laid bare internal problems within the Capitol Police force, including a lack of action on intelligence that signaled swaths of Trump supporters were planning to mob the building, as well as a shortage of riot gear and equipment for officers. Many members of the Capitol Police defended the building in plain clothes, not uniforms, as rioters surged.

"While I'm proud of our officers, the events of January 6 did expose critical departmental failures and deficiencies with operational planning, intelligence, staffing, training and equipment," Manger said.

Congress has since allocated millions of dollars to upgrade the force's equipment and provide overtime and hazard pay to Capitol Police staff. The recently passed the Capitol Police Emergency Assistance Act of 2021 also gives the Capitol Police chief authority to request emergency support from the National Guard and other federal law enforcement.

Nearly a hundred Capitol officers, in addition to dozens of Metropolitan Police officers and members of local police forces, were injured as Trump supporters stormed the building on Jan. 6, determined to stop Congress' certification of President Joe Biden's win in the 2020 presidential election. One officer died from his injuries that day and several committed suicide in the ensuing months, raising concerns about the trauma officers faced that day.

Manger said one of his goals is restoring internal trust in the Capitol Police force.

"What happened on Jan. 6 with the department let them down so many ways that the department has to take responsibility for fixing those failures and for making sure that that never happens again," the chief testified. "And that's going to take time for some officers ... you know, they've seen some of the improvements and I think that you know they appreciate it."

Under Manger's rule — he was tapped by an executive search team to lead Capitol Police in July — the force has hired a group of intelligence analysts, produces daily intelligence reports and holds biweekly classified intelligence briefings.

Focusing on intelligence gathering and responding to credible intelligence is a central focus of Manger's mission. He called for the creation of a new bureau in the police force that would conduct intelligence investigations.

"l think if intelligence had been acted on, I think it would have been a different story," Manger said of the Jan. 6 attack.

But while Manger said the Capitol Police are more prepared for a credible attack than they were a year ago, staffing shortages are straining a police force that continues to grapple with a high-pressure job and the trauma of last year's attack.

The force has had more than 150 officers retire or resign since Jan. 6, and has an average of 175 officers a day who are on leave, Manger recounted, leaving approximately 1,600 who are available to be deployed daily.

Positive Covid cases and the phenomenon of "long Covid" has also kept dozens of officers out of commission, Manger said.

The Capitol Police plan to hire 280 new officers this year, and every year for the next three years.

"We're hoping that that will free up officers to be held over less frequently, to get their days off as they plan, and address some of the staffing issues that are really impacting the morale of this department," Manger said.

Meeting these staffing goals is contingent, Manger said, on Congress passing an annual spending bill and increasing the budget for his department.

"It really 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 when asked what a failure by Congress to raise his budget would mean. "All that we would be able to do is replace the people that left. We can’t survive and continue. We have to increase our staffing."

Manger said the Capitol Police saw 9,600 threats against lawmakers in 2021, a striking number that he said is putting a strain on the force.

“The biggest challenge I think we have is keeping up with the number of threats,” Manger said. “We have doubled the number of officers who investigate these threats. If they continue to go up the way they have, clearly we will need more officers,” Manger added. 

The chances of another large-scale threat is not lost on Manger, who told the Senate Committee that the Capitol Police "will be tested again."

"I don't know who it's going to be or when it's going to be. We will likely be tested again. But what will be different is that we'll be paying much more attention to the information that we gather ahead of time. We will be putting together a better plan," Manger said.

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