The recent storming of the Capitol in Washington, besides being a dull reflection of all that ails that country, was another shining example of the Gordian knot which is 21st century police management. On full national display was the fact that operational policing decisions have now been supplanted by the politically minded managers who now populate the top of every police agency and the politicos who wish to control them. The historical record has now been forever warped by this unhealthy blend of political considerations and policing; where public image has become paramount. Another damaging blow to the credibility and sustainability of policing as it is now practised.
The woeful inadequacy in Washington came with a severe cost. The mayhem resulted in deaths and inadvertently gave a life boost to the sombre and dark tones of right wing political extremism. If one watched the live time feed of the progression of the riot (which is what it was— it was not a “coup” attempt as speculated by many of the media mavens and the hand wringing liberal left) a crowd of 8,000 persons attending a Trump rally were then spurred on and re-directed to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and on to Capitol Hill. Under the banner of some general notion that by doing so they would alter a House vote on the election. Some dressed as Vikings, others carried Confederate flags, members of the Alt right stirred in with red hatted MAGA supporters; a mass of people with mixed motivations and unclear reasonings. Some of this much maligned group included police officers and firefighters.
This alleged army of the far right fuelled with political purpose, still felt it necessary to stop every fifty feet to preen for a selfie. Some of the group seemed content to sit on the steps, the more radicalized began to break windows and enter into the Capitol itself.
Dressed in their various garbs, this ill-defined fringe, carried into the House. The resistance to them was at times sporadic and often half-hearted. Officers can be seen standing around, apparently unaware of the hand to hand combat some of their other fellow officers had endured outside. It was bizarre even in riot standards.
The protestors seemed somewhat caught off guard by the level of advancement that they had achieved. With no clear understanding as to how to carry out their goal, some felt that sitting in the same chair as the House Leader Nancy Pelosi was somehow a victory of sorts. They posed for the in-house cameras. Some of the officers who were there to repel the invaders, also posed for selfies with the protestors and helped direct rioters as to where to go once inside.
The protestors were gradually pushed out, grabbing at any souvenirs they could take, no doubt to show their future grand children.
This is not to downplay the violence. There was an outright battle on the fence lines, no doubt prompted by some of the hardcore right who came prepared for the fight with baseball bats, gas masks, explosives and the like. One protestor was shot, a police officer died of physical complications from the fight. It was nothing less than a bar brawl in broad daylight.
There were 1400 cops there. Were they out-numbered? Yes, but that is not unusual, police often face situations where they are outnumbered. There was no police strategy, they were out-numbered, but more importantly they were un-prepared.
In a detailed article by the Washington Post the chronology of events and the decision making of the management group was outlined. Three of the key mentioned managers have since resigned, as they should, but the damage has clearly been done.
The timeline speaks for itself :
Sunday January 3rd (three days before the march on the Capitol)
— Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund (heads the 2,000 member Capitol Police whose sole job is protecting the Capitol and its two square miles) asks House and Senate Security officials for permission to request that the D.C. National Guard be placed on standby; in the event that quick assistance was needed. This request was based on the fact that police “intelligence” was now suggesting that the crowd for the pro-Trump rally was going to be bigger than originally anticipated. The request was denied.
—- House Sgt at Arms Paul Irving said he wasn’t “comfortable with the optics”
—Senate Sgt at Arms Michael Stenger suggested that Sund should informally seek out his Guard “contacts”and ask them to “lean forward” and be on alert. (This “lean forward”clearly a new in vogue government phrase)
Monday January 4th
—-Sund continues to worry and receives some more police intelligence. “We knew we would have large crowds, the potential for some violent altercations”. There were claims at this time that the alt-right instigators had discussed storming the building and targeting lawmakers. Sund explains in his defence, that “You might see rhetoric on social media. We had seen that many times before”…”people say a lot of things on line”
—Sund calls Irving and Stenger again
—Sund decides to “lean forward” and calls Maj.Gen William J Walker, head of the 1,000 member National Guard. Walker who said that he thought he could call 125 personnel fairly quickly.
— Sund over the weekend had also conferred with D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III who also agreed to lend a hand if trouble began.
Wednesday January 6th
— 12:40 Protestors arrive at the White House for the Trump speech where the idiot incarnate tells them that there needs to be a “fight” against the law makers. The lawyer for the idiot, says that this is a “trial by combat”.
—-1300 Sund calls Chief Contee who sent 100 officers to the scene.
—13:09 Sund calls Stenger and Irving requesting Emergency to be declared in his request for assistance. They say that they will “run it up the chain”
—-13:20 (approx) Aides to the top congressional leaders were called to Stengers office for an update and were infuriated to learn that the Sgt at Arms had not called the National Guard or any other reinforcements. They tell them that it was their responsibility to do this without seeking approval from leaders.
—- During this time Sund said he called Irving twice more and Stenger once to check on their progress. Sund says he is losing patience and also calls Walker to tell him to get ready to bring the Guard.
— 14:00 Protestors arrive at the Capitol buildings after marching down Pennsylvania Avenue
—-14:10 Irving calls back to give approval to call the Guard.
—-Plain Clothes officers begin barricading the door to the Speaker’s lobby
—-14:15 Protestors have broken through the perimeter fencing in a heated battle, and begin climbing the stairs to the outside of the building. The D.C. Police begin sending cars to assist.
—14:26 Sund is now on a conference call with the Pentagon.
The problem is that unlike elsewhere in the U.S. The D.C. National Guard does not report to a governor, but to the President. The Secretary of the Army was not on the call to actually give the approval.
The call had been organized by the D.C. Homeland Security Director, Chris Rodriguez. On the call is the D.C. Police Chief, the Mayor and Walker.
Sund makes an urgent request for the calling out of the National Guard. Several Pentagon people are on this call, including Army Staff Director Lt. General Walter Piatt. Piatt states during this call that “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing in front of the Capital”. Piatt’s boss is Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and is the one who has to approve the deployment of the Guard.
The call gets noisy with people over talking others before Contee intervenes and asks for clarification “Steve, are you requesting National Guard Assistance at the Capitol?” Sund says “I am making urgent, urgent, immediate request for National Guard Assistance. “
Piatt again jumps in to the conversation again and again pushes back on Sund saying he would prefer to have Guard soldiers take up posts “around Washington” relieving the D.C. Police so that they could respond to the Capitol instead of the guardsmen.
Of course, Piatt points out that McCarthy the Secretary of the Army and the final approval needed was not on this call.
Contee asked Piatt “Let me be clear, are you denying this?” No, Piatt said he just didn’t have the authority to approve it.
—-1504 hrs According to the defence department McCarthy “verbally” authorizes the activation of the entire D.C guard.
*It would take another two hours for most of the citizen soldiers to leave their jobs and homes and pick up their gear.
—-15:45 hrs Stenger, unaware of the apparent order by McCarthy, tells Lund that he would ask his boss, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for help getting the National Guard authorized. No one knows how this ended up.
By this time, Capitol Police, Secret Service, Park Police and the FBI were all on the scene helping to eject rioters, and sweep the building.
One could safely assume that by 1700 hrs the rest of the National Guard would have been in place, in time to assist the janitorial staff with sweeping up.
Bureaucratic creep, multiple levels and authorities, conference rooms and command centres. These are the characteristics of modern day police management, where political agendas have been welcomed into operational decision making. What it looks like, how it plays to the media has become the overriding question in police departments.
Don’t think that this can happen in Canada? Is there a need to remind anyone of the shooting of Nathan Cirillo on Parliament Hill, and the gunman, Michael Zehauf Bibeau, a 32 year old misfit and drug addict, no more organized than this Washington group, allowed to run into Parliament, passed several security staff and allowed to run free in the halls before being shot 32 times. Do I need to remind anyone how Ms. Chretien woke up to an intruder in her bedroom, an individual having got past that intrepid group of yawning and bored Mounties at 24 Sussex. Or how about the fellow who blew himself up with ten sticks of dynamite inside a Parliament Hill washroom in 1966 before he could make it to the House of Commons.
It is obvious to most that Security,at the best of times, is a bit of a mugs game. This despite growing levels of dark suits and Oakley sunglasses. If one wants to storm Parliament Hill with 8000 angry demonstrators, do we think that we would be equipped to turn them away? It seems unlikely.
Having been once part of the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 we were surrounded and “supported” by tthe Gold, Silver and Bronze command centres who were in application tragically comic. Hundreds of officers passing paper between themselves and a myriad of high level officers. There is little doubt that if there had been a true security “incident” in this billion dollar security operation, it would still have fallen to a dozen officers on the front line, while hundreds would have remain closeted in various boardrooms.
The fallout now in Washington has been tiresome in its predictability. Politicians and government officials now kicking themselves in the head with their knee-jerk reactions. Band wagon lawmakers now out from behind their desks, now calling the whole episode a “severe systemic failure” that must not happen again.
Three officers have been suspended and seventeen more are under investigation. The entire force of 2,000 officers who are there to defend the two square miles have a $500 million budget and are under full review. Out of the woodwork come the usual suspects of the woke culture filling the air with the allegations of the police force being a group of old boys networks, a structure built of glass ceilings, and racial bias. It seems to be agreed that this was a well paid police force, often filled with patronage appointments and a police force obviously suffering from “mission creep”.
The next security concern, the Biden inauguration will be ridiculous in the over kill. Already forming up in Washington is more soldiers than are in Afghanistan. Perfect 20/20 hindsight.
Democrats have pounced on another chance to pontificate and stamp out the evil Trump and have now voted to impeach him for a second time over this incident. If the first impeachment didn’t work, get up and try, try, again.
When the dust settles, the Incident Command classrooms throughout North America will have trainers analyze what went wrong in course after course; only to have it happen again once the memories start to fade. Nothing will change until we get away from the current and constant belief that more is good, that bigger is better. The incident command system with all the self-important middle managers need to be removed and arm chair quarterbacks need to disappear along with their “desk top exercises”. The pyramid needs to be drastically flattened.
The bigger problem will still be that police management must become apolitical. Currently, that seems unlikely.
Photo by Marco Verch Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons – Some Rights Reserved