Capitol Police mishandled emergency system on Jan 6: report

Senate report on Jan. 6 attack finds Capitol Police failed to relay threat

‘The Story’ host Martha MacCallum provides the latest details on the investigation

U.S. Capitol Police didn’t adequately respond to frantic calls for help from officers when they pressed panic buttons on their radios seeking immediate backup, as scores of rioters beat them with bats, poles and other weapons, a recent report from the inspector general found. 

The report, first obtained by The Associated Press, offered new details about the shortcomings by law enforcement during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, revealing that most of the emergency activations from individual officers’ radios were never simulcast on police radio, a standard protocol designed to spread the word to other officers about emergencies and crises. The on-duty watch commander appears not to have been made aware of at least some of the system activations, the report said.

Police officials in Washington, D.C. are increasingly concerned about a rally planned for Sept. 18 on federal land next to the Capitol that organizers have said is meant to demand “justice” for the hundreds of people already charged in connection with the events that unfolded on Jan. 6. 

“Without the ability to connect with help or request reinforcements during emergencies, officers are at risk of facing dangerous or even deadly situations,” the report said. “Without being aware of an officer’s emergency, the Department does not dispatch additional units or resources for an officer in distress. And if the on-duty Watch Commander is not notified of emergency identifier activations, they cannot respond to a situation.”

Capitol Police said senior department officials had been using their cellphones on Jan. 6 to communicate orders to others down the chain of command in an effort to limit the number of radio transmissions being broadcast. 

The findings on the emergency radio system are included in a “flash report” by the Capitol Police inspector general, the fifth in an ongoing series of assessments of how the agency fell short in its handling of Jan. 6 and how it can do better in the future. It follows earlier reports that have focused on issues including the agency’s handling of threat assessments and approach to civil disturbances and that, taken together, have shown a pattern of flawed preparation for – and response to – the violence of that day.

The July report focuses on deficiencies inside the Capitol Police Command and Coordination Bureau, which among other responsibilities prepares for special events and manages the response to emergencies at the Capitol complex. The inspector general detailed outdated and vague policies and procedures as well as problems in preparedness, coordination and emergency planning.

Capitol Police said in a statement that its policies and procedures were being updated and that “a comprehensive training plan is being developed.”

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo crowds try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. An inspector general’s report says U.S. Capitol Police did not properly respond to officers’ use of an emergency notification system on Jan. 6,  and there are no records that most calls were simulcast over the radio or that a watch commander was even aware of at least some of them. That’s according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. 
(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

“The USCP has acknowledged there were communication gaps on January 6. Given the events of January 6th, the enormous amount of radio traffic that day was not surprising,” the statement issued on Tuesday said. “Additionally, the size and magnitude of January 6 made it difficult to respond to each officer’s emergency radio broadcast in real-time.” 

The Capitol Police statement noted that “in order to limit radio traffic, the command staff used cell phones on January 6 to communicate orders through the chain of command,” and the department “had issued smart phones to all of its sworn personnel to improve communication.”

Because so many officers were pressing their panic buttons, fellow officers couldn’t respond to all of the calls at once and needed to prioritize their emergency responses, a law enforcement official, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the report hasn’t been publicly released, said. Even so, the inspector general report says, the emergency system was not handled properly. 

Of the 36 emergency system activations that day, the inspector general located only 13 in the transcripts of radio traffic. Though there may be additional activations that were not reflected in the transcripts, “it is clear not all were simulcast,” the report said. In addition, the report said, Command Center officials did not always ensure that the on-duty watch commander was even aware of the system activations.

The findings reflect a notable departure from the way the system is supposed to work. The watchdog report cites standard protocol showing that when an officer activates the radio emergency system, the officer’s name and personal identification number appear on the dispatch console. The dispatcher is then required to simulcast on all talk groups that an emergency is in progress. Failure to appropriately respond to the emergency system activations, the report says, “can place officers at increased risk.”

In its statement, the Capitol Police said it has been working to improve communication during critical incidents and is deploying “new and improved policies, practices and procedures” for monitoring emergency signals and communication with other law enforcement agencies.

The force has also brought on a retired Secret Service agent to help plan for major events.

Meanwhile, emails separately obtained by Politico appear to illustrate the intelligence lapses at the U.S. Capitol Police on Jan. 6 seemingly referenced in the inspector general’s reports. The documents show that the U.S. Secret Service sent several emails to the U.S. Capitol Police on Jan. 5 detailing online threats of violence against D.C. police officers on Jan. 6. The emails also disclosed intelligence about individuals possibly traveling to D.C. with “gear and weapons, to include ballistic helmets, armored gloves and vests, rifles and suppressors.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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