My eyes are those of a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, a career that included directing the Transportation Security Administration at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, directing public safety in a metro Atlanta county and serving as a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
What my eyes saw was the massive breach of a very poorly guarded government building. But, of course, this was not your generic government building. It was the nexus, the headquarters, the very temple of our democratic government. It was the single most important and iconic structure in our nation. Of high-value targets, it was the one of greatest value.
I saw many things on January 6, but evidence of a police presence on “high alert” was not among them.
The Capitol appeared to be weakly “guarded” by Capitol Police, a force massively outnumbered by the gathering insurrectionist mob. Guarding an important site requires defense in depth. At the Capitol, not even a thinly fortified perimeter had been established.
The Capitol Police should have understood that they were in over their heads, that their own ranks alone were inadequate to defend against a threat they knew with certainty was coming. Pro-Trump supporters were specifically coming to disrupt the official counting, in Congress, of the Electoral College ballots — the final step in certifying Donald Trump’s loss and Joe Biden’s victory.
Facing a known threat of assault on a known day and in a known location, the Capitol Police remained unprepared.
These forces should have been present and strategically positioned.
They were not. And, so, the Capitol Police were quickly overrun and the Capitol itself breached.
Recorded on many videos, the event, seen by the whole world, was fantastically shocking. Yet it was not a surprise.
The only real mystery here — and it is a mystery with the most profound implications — is why law enforcement left itself so unprepared for a dangerous event many people, up to and including the president of the United States, had not merely anticipated but had actually announced days and days in advance.
To solve the mystery, we need to answer these questions: Were the Capitol Police unprepared to defend the Capitol? Or were the Capitol Police unwilling to defend the Capitol?
If unprepared, their leaders are guilty of incompetence, gross negligence or both.
If unwilling, the implications are even more ominous.
But they should never have been put in that position. Either their commanders had failed them by being grossly unprepared, or some of their brothers and sisters in uniform had betrayed them by siding in sympathy with the mob.
Preparation, planning, riot training, hostage training, personal protection training, adequate numbers, appropriate weaponry — all of these things are critical to securing the lives and safety of elected officials and other public servants as well as the sanctity of democracy’s iconic citadels. But none of these things will work if police loyalties are divided or even entirely misdirected. In a democracy, we get the government we elect. In a democracy, we get the police forces we hire.