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Why Capitol Police Failed To Prevent Attack On U.S. Capitol

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Underprepared, overwhelmed, complicit - some of the ways that the Capitol Police have been described after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol Wednesday, leaving one officer dead and another on leave after killing a protester. Former officers, such as Butch Jones, reject any suggestion that the Capitol Police didn't have the resources needed for crowd control.

BUTCH JONES: They're going to have the good equipment. They're going to have the best training. Was the officials giving orders to take action? That's the question that needs to be asked.

CORNISH: In an article for Politico magazine, Garrett Graff writes that the breach was a failure of security leadership on the Hill, and changes are already afoot.

GARRETT GRAFF: We're seeing resignations, I think, from all of the right people. You know, we've seen the House and Senate sergeants at arms. The chief of the Capitol Police has now offered his resignation as well. I think you're going to see a lot more command resignations or firings as well as Congress begins to hold hearings. And all of the law enforcement executives and leaders that I've talked to in the last 48 hours say that those firings are absolutely deserved.

CORNISH: The department has more than 2,000 officers, a budget of 460 million. Does it have intelligence operations, for instance, to prevent an attack like Wednesday's?

GRAFF: Yeah. And this is an agency that has not only its own intelligence operations, but is very closely linked into the intelligence community in Washington. And it participates in the Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI in the Washington region. This agency, it seems, by all rights, should have seen this rally coming a long way off.

CORNISH: I want to come to an allegation that we've heard on social media and also from Joe Biden, the president-elect, that the response was affected by the race of the rioters, that it would have been worse if the rioters were Black or brown. How do you see this?

GRAFF: I think that's undeniably true at one level. You know, there is no sense that the Capitol Police responded in a way similar to what you might expect them to see had this been a Black or brown or Muslim crowd coming into the Capitol. I mean, you saw police officers, you know, taking selfies and joking with protesters as they occupied the Capitol. At the same time, I think it is hard to also overstate just how overwhelmed and just how outnumbered the Capitol Police really were. This was a failure that began far upstream, you know, many days in advance of Wednesday's protests.

CORNISH: You describe the growth of the department after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and after 9/11, after the anthrax attacks. Those events really shaped the size and scope of the force. What do you expect to happen now after something of this scale?

GRAFF: Well, those of us who have lived in Washington since 9/11, I mean, we've seen the Capitol transformed almost block by block into an armed fortress in many ways. You know, the Capitol Police have effectively tripled in size since 9/11. This is supposed to be an agency that can go toe to toe with, you know, the most highly trained terrorists in the world, and they just utterly failed on Wednesday.

CORNISH: What are some of the questions you expect will be asked by lawmakers and if there are other ways that lawmakers might go after them?

GRAFF: I think what you're going to see is a big emphasis on what was the intelligence gathering that the department was doing in the run-up to Wednesday. How did this department not understand that the joint session of Congress could become a target for protesters? You know, why weren't police officers better prepared with stronger fences? Why wasn't there a quick reaction force nearby in riot gear? Why weren't there crowd-dispersal chemicals? This was a very narrowly averted mass tragedy, especially when you begin to look at the bullet holes in the Capitol walls and Capitol windows that we've seen as the protests have receded.

GRAFF: Garrett Graff - his article, Behind the Strategic Failure of the Capitol Police, is in Politico magazine. Thank you for your time.

CORNISH: Always a pleasure, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.