Washington (CNN)In the weeks after the January 6 riot, Capitol Police officers were shell-shocked and wounded, both physically and psychologically. They’d been through hell, they’d sacrificed their bodies, they’d lost colleagues who died as a result of the attack. But in the end they had safeguarded democracy and upheld their primary directive: Secure and protect the 535 members of Congress.
Officers could take solace in the fact that they’d done their job, and that it appeared there would be a sweeping examination of the events of the day, one that could bring to light the systemic failures that led to the attack and ensure that nothing like it could ever happen again.
But in recent weeks, those hopes have been extinguished, and what was already a tense relationship between Capitol Police and some lawmakers has only gotten worse. Officers bristle at the efforts of some Republicans to whitewash and move past the January 6 insurrection, and many worry the moment will go down as a missed opportunity to fix the substantial shortcomings the attack revealed.
CNN spoke to more than a dozen current and former Capitol Police officers for this story, interviews that revealed deep levels of frustration among rank-and-file officers who had hoped for reforms in the wake of the attack but are now largely resigned to nothing of consequence changing. “
“We are exactly the same as we were if not muddier,” said one officer. “I personally have a very pessimistic view of the future.”
Ahead of what appears to be the likely demise of a bill to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of January 6, officers spoke of being disillusioned over how the effort fell apart. Many are exhausted and overworked as the 2,300-person police force has been stretched thin by recent retirements. Others are resentful that they’ve been turned into a political football as Democrats and Republicans fight over what some officers say should be obvious fixes, including making some basic security upgrades and approving funding for better equipment.
“We have heard all of this support for police, police, police, and then your own police force is battered and bruised and now you drag your feet?” said another officer, who like others spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment of relations between Capitol Police officers, lawmakers and Capitol Hill leadership.
“I kind of got lulled, I got fooled, I listened to (Senate Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell’s words that same night when they reconvened (on January 6),” the officer said. “I bought into it, I thought, ‘Wow, we are really going to get some answers.’ ”
The fallout from January 6 has also exposed the normally private relationship between Capitol Police officers and members of Congress, revealing a power dynamic that is unique across law enforcement, one where lawmakers often believe they command authority over the officers who are sworn to protect them, officers say.
“They think we’re like servants,” said one officer who recently left the department.
“I would rather work outside in the heat or the cold,” the officer said, adding, “I would rather have to deal with people overdosing on drugs” than deal with members’ staff.
The officer is one of more than 70 who have quit the US Capitol Police since the January 6 attack, a rate of attrition that is slightly higher than normal, according to one law enforcement source. Another source told CNN that more officer departures are expected soon. As a result of the shrinking ranks, some officers are working days on end without a break — one officer told CNN they had worked more than two weeks straight.
“We are hemorrhaging people still. It’s amazing to watch these young officers leave,” a senior Capitol Police officer told CNN.
In a statement to CNN, the US Capitol Police described the rigorous amount of work that goes into recruiting officers and said that since January 6, it has brought in one class of 23 recruits, and four additional classes are scheduled for later this year.
‘We are political pawns’
The problems Capitol Police officers describe are twofold. Current and former officers tell CNN that one of the defining characteristics of working security on Capitol Hill is persistent pressure from congressional members and their staffs who believe they are in control of officers’ actions, and who, worse, barely acknowledge their hard work.
Officers have also watched as efforts to bolster Capitol Hill security funding — which would include hiring hundreds of new officers and upgrading outdated Capitol Police equipment– have become mired in political infighting.
Many officers expressed concerns that the building itself remains unsecure, and that much more needs to be done to strengthen weak points, such as windows that rioters were able to smash with flagpoles and stools.
House Democrats last week passed a $1.9 billion emergency funding package for the Capitol, which would include funding to hire more officers, buy new equipment and install retractable fencing. It was approved by the narrowest of margins, 213-212, amid united GOP opposition, and the legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Appropriations Committee leaders in both parties have had a cool reception to the House bill.
What’s even more offensive to some officers is an effort by most Republicans to block an independent commission intended to investigate the January 6 attack. While 35 House Republicans joined with Democrats in favor of the bill, House Republican leadership opposed a bipartisan deal for the commission and Senate Republicans are preparing to filibuster the bill.
It’s unclear whether a last-minute effort by the mother of fallen Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick to meet with GOP senators ahead of the expected vote on the January 6 commission will alter that outcome. In a statement obtained by CNN, Gladys Sicknick writes, “Not having a January 6 Commission to look into exactly what occurred is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day.”
“We are political pawns,” one officer said. “Now the people we are sworn to protect and did protect on the 6th don’t want to fund us or figure out what really happened that day.”
In a remarkable moment
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