The US Capitol Police is facing increasing scrutiny into whether its officers played a role in enabling a violent mob to storm the Capitol building and threaten the safety of lawmakers.
The police force’s Office of the Inspector General, a watchdog that performs an oversight role and reports directly to the force’s board, has suspended all other work to focus solely on conducting a sweeping review of the force following last week’s invasion of the Capitol, according to two people briefed on the matter.
As well as committing all of their staff to the project, the inspector-general’s office will invite independent experts in to aid the probe.
It comes amid growing demands from lawmakers to know how the pro-Trump mob, which included people carrying firearms, was able to so easily enter the building and interrupt the certification of the US presidential election result by Congress.
Several lawmakers have described fleeing for their lives and being forced to hide in secure locations as law enforcement officers failed to hold the crowd back. Others have described how they or their colleagues have been the subject of violent threats over votes to certify the election results or impeach Donald Trump.
Senator Chris Murphy, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the police force, said it was “absolutely vital” that lawmakers understood how the breach occurred, adding that he was glad to hear the inspector-general would be launching a comprehensive investigation.
On Wednesday evening, Tim Ryan — the Democratic congressman who chairs the House of Representatives committee that oversees the Capitol Police’s $516m annual budget — told reporters that lawmakers were having “a hell of a time getting information from the Capitol Police oversight.”
“It’s a black box over there,” Mr Ryan said, adding: “They need to do a better job.”
number of Capitol Police officers so far suspended
Mr Ryan said that in hundreds of conversations with “rank-and-file members” of the force, it appeared that there was a lack of communication from command centres, leading to “a ton of confusion and lack of direction.”
Capitol Police officers have also faced allegations of aiding the rioters. Two off-duty police officers from Virginia who have been arrested and charged with unlawful entry of the Capitol building told a local newspaper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, that they had been allowed into the building and shown around by Capitol Police officers.
Thomas Robertson, an off-duty officer with Rocky Mount police department in Virginia, told the local paper that he and his colleague Jacob Fracker had broken no laws.
“We were escorted in by the Capitol Police, shown around and told, ‘As long as you stay here, you’re fine,’” Mr Robertson said, adding that the pair had stayed in cordoned-off areas. He claimed that officers were handing out bottles of water to people upon entry.
However, prosecutors alleged in court filings that in now-deleted social media posts, Mr Robertson claimed that he “attacked the government” and “took the fucking Capitol”.
Images of Capitol Police officers seeming to open the gates to allow rioters on to the Capitol grounds, and posing for selfies with members of the mob while wearing Trump-themed MAGA hats, have prompted outrage on social media.
But other members of the force have received praise for risking their safety to divert the mob away from the packed Senate chamber. A bipartisan group of lawmakers are seeking to honour one of the officers, Eugene Goodman, for his “bravery and quick thinking” during the attack.
The chief of the Capitol Police, Steven Sund, submitted his resignation in the wake of the attack. One Capitol Police officer died from injuries sustained during the melee.
Two Capitol Police officers have so far been suspended from their post. Mr Ryan said he had been briefed that around 20 more were being investigated by the police’s office for personnel and management.
The mistrust inside the Capitol has also spread between lawmakers, with some suggesting that colleagues aided rioters by giving them tours in the preceding days.
Speaking at the impeachment proceeding against Mr Trump, Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chair of the House judiciary committee, said rioters’ “accomplices in this House will be held responsible.”