WASHINGTON — The United States Capitol Police Department began the search Wednesday for its next chief – a leader tasked with rebuilding a 2,500-person force demoralized by the January 6 insurrection and subsequent investigations that found its officers were ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the job at hand.
The department has been under the command of Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman since former Chief Steven Sund resigned days after a mob of thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building in an effort to disrupt the certification of Electoral College votes.
In February, the Capitol Police union issued a “no confidence” vote in Pittman and other top brass, with more than 90% of officers participating saying they were dissatisfied with the department’s leadership.
On Wednesday, the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the department, announced it had begun a national search for the next chief. The search will be aided by the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based police research and policy organization.
“Following the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and a second fatal attack on an officer on April 2, the USCP is facing some of the most difficult challenges in its 193-year history,” the department said in a press release. “The Department seeks a transformative leader who can inspire and usher change, effectively managing the many complex facets associated with securing our nation’s Capitol and its Members, while navigating an exceptionally dynamic and complex law enforcement environment.”
The department has lost seven officers in the line of duty since 1952, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page – a national repository of law enforcement deaths. Of those seven, only three have occurred since 2000: Sgt. Clinton Jeffrey Holtz, who died in January 2014 of a heart attack; Officer Brian Sicknick, who died January 7 after suffering two strokes during the Capitol riot; and Officer William Evans who was killed earlier this month in a ramming attack at a vehicle check point. The department also suffered the loss of Officer Howie Liebengood, who was one of two law enforcement officers to take their own lives after responding to the Capitol riot.
The Capitol Police have been further battered by a report by Inspector General Michael Bolton that found the department failed in its threat analysis of January 6, did not have the right policies in place or appropriate training to respond to an event like the Capitol riot.
Sund, the department’s former chief, testified before a Senate committee in February that many of his officers – including three of the departments’ seven civil disturbance units – didn’t have the helmets, protective gloves, batons and other equipment they needed. In some cases, officers who did have riot helmets found they were so old that “padding was rotting out,” according to Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH).
A report compiled by Task Force 1-6, lead by Lt. General Russel Honoré, summed up the department’s situation in just a few words, saying it was “understaffed, insufficiently equipped and inadequately trained” on January 6.
That could hurt the chances of the Capitol Police Board selecting an internal candidate – the union’s preferred outcome, according to chairman Gus Papathanasiou.
“There are existing leaders in this department who are up to the task,” Papathanisou said in February. “Leaders who understand the mission and are interested in doing their job and not just keeping their job.”
It could also prove a serious obstacle for Pittman’s chances of moving into the role permanently. The Capitol Police confirmed to WUSA9 on Wednesday that Pittman was putting her name forward for consideration for the chief’s position.
On January 6, Pittman was the assistant chief of police for protective and intelligence operations – a division that has received intense scrutiny over allegations it failed to properly analyze and share intelligence about the possibility of violence and the presence of militia members and white supremacists. Pittman has repeatedly pushed back on those claims, saying during testimony before a House subcommittee that there was no evidence January 6 would be on the scale it ultimately was.
“Since the 6th, it has been suggested that the department was either ignorant of, or ignored, critical intelligence that indicated that an attack of the magnitude we experienced on January 6 would occur,” Pittman said. “The department was not ignorant of intelligence indicating an attack of the size and scale we encountered on the 6th. There was no such intelligence.”
The Capitol Police Board, which is comprised of architect of the Capitol, the USCP chief and the sergeants-at-arms of both chambers of Congress, said it will accept applications for the chief position until May 17. The board is expected to make a decision by early Summer.
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