The recent attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband sent shockwaves throughout the political community. While elected officials have been easy and visible targets, threats and rhetoric have turned into real violence today.
The Capitol riots on January 6, 2021 seem to have marked an invisible turning point, after which threats against politicians began to increase significantly. Time reported that in 2021, there were more than 9,600 threats against members of congress, 10 times that of 2016.
As threats escalate into violence, the question of security for elected officials becomes paramount. What options do they have?
The Role of Capitol Police
Members of Congress traditionally rely on the protection of the United States Capitol Police (USCP), a federal enforcement agency charged with their protection across the country, as well as the protection of property throughout the Capitol Complex. The Capitol Police came under heavy fire for failing to anticipate and stop the January 6 riots.
Following the debacle, a comprehensive upgrade of the Capitol’s security system was implemented. The improvements focused on intelligence gathering, event security, and communications. Additionally, Congress approved legislation for the chief of the USCP to call upon assistance from the National Guard when needed.
Debates Run Long as Resources Run Short
While the USCP has implemented many changes, debates are raging across bipartisan lines as to whether that protection is enough.
The attack of Paul Pelosi certainly seems to indicate it is not. Even though Pelosi’s house was outfitted with cameras connected to the USCP, they were not monitored effectively.
Politicians are now calling for better USCP security, including 24/7 coverage of residences, protective details for themselves and family members, enhanced security systems, and deeper partnerships with local police.
Politicians who are against major security upgrades argue they do not want to live in armed fortresses or be constantly dogged by security details.
These debates will influence the 2023 budget, just as they influenced the enhanced security measures following January 6. The House is currently recommending approximately $708 million be appropriated to Capitol law enforcement, about $100 million more than 2022. The actual number depends on bipartisan agreement.
USCP chief Tom Manger requested additional funding in March to help what he called “a severely understaffed department.” Between January 2021 and 2022, about 150 officers left the USCP, a heavy blow following a committee’s recommendation for adding officers. To offer adequate security, funding must be in place.
Current Security Measures on Offer
While the attack on Paul Pelosi showed a dire need of improvement, the USCP does bring significant value in other areas. There are several security measures currently in place.
● The option to coordinate personal security with local police
● Increased patrols of residences
● Up to $10,000 to use for home security
● District office security
● Purchase of bulletproof vests and other security equipment using office expense account
Federal and Personal Responsibility
The current reality: the Capitol Police are charged with protecting elected officials and yet do not have the resources to do so.
Therefore, members of Congress should avail themselves of current security measures on offer, while using their judgment in deciding whether to pay for additional private security. As tensions rise, awareness and protective measures are crucial.