The acting chief of the Capitol Police chief has apologised to Congress for the force’s role in the riots that took place at the US Capitol on 6 January, admitting the agency displayed major security failures.
Yogananda D Pittman, who was not in charge of the agency at the time of the riots, spoke to members of the House Appropriations Committee in a closed-door briefing on Tuesday where she admitted the department knew there was a “strong potential for violence” on the day of the riots, according to prepared testimony obtained by The New York Times.
She went on to state that the agency failed to take adequate steps to prevent the riots, which she described as a “terror attack”.
The Capitol Police Board, made up of three voting members, was approached about bringing in the National Guard ahead of the 6 January, but they declined that request two days prior, Ms Pittman said. The board also delayed sending the National Guard in for more than one hour as the violence unfolded at the US Capitol. This despite calls from the Capitol Police that they needed assistance.
“[Capitol Police] failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours.” Ms Pittman told Congress. “I am here to offer my sincerest apologies on behalf of the department.”
Ms Pittman’s statement has provided more details into the events that took place before and during the riots.
Her agency, she admitted, “should have been more prepared for this attack” based on the knowledge they had of the protests.
Former President Donald Trump advertised his “Stop the Steal” rally for weeks, encouraging supporters to flock to Washington DC on the same day Congress would certify each state’s Electoral College votes. Capitol Police knew these protests would be unlike others, and that militia and white supremacist groups were expected, Ms Pittman said.
“We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event,” she said, according to The New York Times. “We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target. The department prepared in order to meet these challenges, but we did not do enough.”
Only 1,200 Capitol Police officers were spaced across the US Capitol grounds on that day, which was insufficient to the “tens of thousands of insurrectionists” anticipated.
The Capitol Police faced backlash following the riots for how easily rioters were able to access the Capitol building. Steven Hund, the then acting chief of police, resigned after Congress members called for his removal.
Ms Pittman said that the former acting chief was the one who requested the Capitol Police Board to approve National Guard members two days before the planned protests. He also asked for them to approve a state of emergency, but those request were denied.
During the riots, Mr Sund then approached the board members again about sending in the National Guard. “He also lobbied the board for authorisation to bring in the National Guard, but he was not granted authorisation for over an hour,” Ms Pittman said.
Two of the three board members have already resigned following intense scrutiny for their role in not preventing riots.
“In my experience, I do not believe there was any preparations that would have allowed for an open campus in which lawful protesters could exercise their first amendment right to free speech and at the same time prevented the attack on Capitol grounds that day,” Ms. Pittman said.
“However, I do believe certain challenges the department faced that day could’ve been overcome with additional preparation," she added.
Reports surfaced of some Capitol Police officers seemingly interacting rioters, including one member taking a selfie with someone in the US Capitol. But Ms Pittman said that “the vast majority of Capitol Police officers who were on the frontlines on 6 January performed valiantly in the face of extraordinary violence," adding that several members now suffered from PTSD from the riots.
One police officer died on 6 January from injuries he suffered from rioters. Another officer died by suicide in the days following the riots.
Ongoing investigations into the riots, Ms Pittman said, would likely conclude that security at the US Capitol would need to change and her agency would need additional resources to make those changes.
“We know the eyes of the country and the world are upon us,” she said. “The US Capitol Police remain steadfast in addressing the new challenges that we face head on.”