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Capitol Police Should Stick To Protecting The Capitol

The U.S. Capitol Police Should not open field offices

July 28, 2021

The January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol shocked and horrified the nation. Most Americans were rightly appalled by an armed mob’s attempt to disrupt the counting of presidential electoral votes to prevent the confirmation of a new president. 

Hundreds of participants in the riot have been arrested and some have even already pleaded guilty to crimes related to the event. The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies continue to investigate the attack and search for more participants.

In addition to continuing the hunt for rioters, Congress is taking action. The U.S. House of Representatives has appointed a select committee to investigate the attack. It has also pressured the U.S. Capitol Police, the law enforcement agency that protects the Capitol, to make reforms in order to better protect Congress.

Unfortunately, some of the reforms are going to lead the U.S. Capitol Police to become yet another domestic surveillance agency. Yet another such agency is duplicative of other federal law enforcement agencies and poses a threat to civil liberties.

On July 6th, the U.S. Capitol Police issued a press release that detailed the reforms the agency has made since the riot. Among the changes the agency has made is more joint training with the National Guard, riot training, shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, and less-than-lethal exercises. The agency has also acquired more riot gear including helmets, shields, less-than-lethal munitions, and batons. The agency has also acquired on loan from the Department of Defense state-of-the-art campus surveillance technology to monitor the Capitol grounds. 

Furthermore, the agency has brought on various trauma relief services in order to cater to the needs of the officers who went through the riot. They have even brought in two wellness support dogs, Lila and Filip, to help spread the message of wellness. 

Of more interest, however, is the expansion of the presence of the U.S. Capitol Police to beyond the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. The agency will be opening field offices in California and Florida with plans to open more field offices across the country, according to the press release. The field offices will be used to investigate threats to members of Congress.

In addition to opening field offices, the Capitol Police will be entering the intelligence business. The agency will be increasing communication and intelligence sharing between other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

The opening of the field offices and the expansion of intelligence-gathering the mark a departure from the Capitol Police’s traditional mission of primarily protecting the grounds of the Capitol and dignitary protection of certain members of Congress. It is now entering the field of traditional law enforcement with its investigation powers and even tipping its toes into the field of domestic surveillance.

The major problem with the mission creep of the Capitol Police is that there are already federal law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating threats against lawmakers. The FBI already fulfills many of the roles of investigation. In fact, the vast majority of Capitol rioters arrested were arrested by the FBI. 

In addition to the mission creep and duplication of the work other agencies do, there are civil liberties concerns with expanding the role of the Capitol Police.

Did you know that the Capitol Police are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act?

Unique among federal law enforcement agencies, the Capitol Police can ignore public records requests from citizens and journalists. That is because the Capitol Police are a branch of Congress, which is exempt from FOIA.

This means that there is no transparency at the Capitol Police. The agency has drawn scrutiny over the arrests of reporters and protestors, among other things. Yet, the agency does not release public records and documents related to those incidents.

If the FBI, which has oversight from the Justice Department and is more transparent than the Capitol Police, has a record of unlawfully spying on Americans, what is to stop the Capitol Police from doing the same? It is easy to see the Capitol Police use their new tools and powers to spy on potential political dissidents, all in the name of protecting members of Congress. 

It is important to protect American democracy. That is why the Capitol Police should focus on protecting the grounds of the Capitol instead of becoming a domestic surveillance agency.

Kevin Boyd is a freelance writer with bylines in numerous publications. You can follow him on Twitter @TheKevinBoyd and find more of his work on his Substack