Law enforcement officials across the country are in shock over the chaos at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, with some saying police there were “entirely unprepared” and others calling the response “embarrassing.”
The majority said it was the failure of the Capitol Police to prevent the physical invasion of the building by pro-Trump rioters that concerned them most.
Carmen Best, who was chief of the Seattle Police from 2018 to September 2020 and is now an NBC contributor, said that like many other Americans she watched the events at the Capitol unfold via television.
“I was wondering, where were the cops? If they don’t get there soon, what else could transpire? It felt like a very long time and I’m sure millions of people were also watching and thinking the same thing.”
While she did not want to be overly critical of the Capitol Police, given that facts were still coming to light, she said “[the response] took way too long.”
One senior law enforcement official with decades of experience handling high-profile security events at a major city police department raised national security concerns in light of the breaches of senior Congressional leaders’ offices.
The official wondered what documents were exposed, what computers were unlocked, and what phone numbers were out in the open when rioters entered these offices. The official was also concerned there could have been foreign intelligence officers mixed in with the crowd.
Many officials who spoke to NBC News condemned decisions made by supervisory officers when it came to preparation.
Others wondered about levels of staffing at the Capitol given the fact that there wasn’t only a protest scheduled today but also for the counting of the Electoral vote. They say it appeared that the Capitol police were completely undermanned.
In questioning staffing, Best noted the heated rhetoric around the election and recent events like mass social justice protests and the alleged plot of militia members to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“It all paints a picture and sets a tone for what is likely to occur. It’s all about the staffing. Given what we’ve seen over the last several months it shouldn’t shock people. If you think that large numbers of people could show up and potentially engage in violence or property damage, you staff up.”
Another senior law enforcement official from a major department who has managed protests and intelligence noted there were no SWAT or specialized units in front of the Capitol in advance of the mob’s arrival that would have been trained to stop and shutdown the effort to storm the Capitol.
The official also suggested there had been an intelligence failure. “How did they not get wind of this?” the official asked. The official said social media should have been combed for any clues as to the group’s movements and intentions and the rally should have been monitored.
“The number one job of police commanders,” said the official, “is to make sure officers are safe and today that didn’t happen.”
“This was definitely a planning error. Don’t blame the guy outside the door.”
The officials questioned the lack of physical barricades and security surrounding the Capitol, particularly in light of the upcoming inaugural of President-elect Joe Biden’s inaugural. They wonder why natural targets like the spectator stands and speaker towers erected for the inaugural weren’t secured.
And some wondered why it took so long for law enforcement reinforcements to be called in and take control of the situation. Police were assaulted, tear gas and sprays were used against them, and yet few arrests were made. It took hours for buses to arrive and make arrests and most of the front-line officers initially had no riot or protective gear.
They also noted the contrast between the police response in D.C. to this summer’s George Floyd protests and demonstrations with what transpired Wednesday.
The law enforcement officials asked to remain anonymous because they don’t want to be seen as criticizing another agency, not knowing the totality of the Capitol police’s circumstances.
While order has been restored tonight, police say they’re not hopeful this will be the last violent incident. One law enforcement official said, “I predict this is going to get worse” adding that extremist groups of any kind will feel empowered that they can overrun what the official called one of the most sacred symbols of American democracy, the U.S. Capitol.
The Capitol Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Law enforcement officials across the U.S. shocked by police failure to stop Capitol invasion The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ NBC News.