The US Capitol Police intends to reduce perimeter fencing and is considering scaling back the National Guard presence at the Capitol as law enforcement forces examine how to protect against threats amidst a tense political climate and criticism from some lawmakers that the suggestions for long-range security are excessive.
The measures, outlined in an internal email, include removing the outer perimeter of the fence along the Capitol grounds within the next two weeks and using bike racks positioned in double rows outside some areas within one week to create a barrier between police and potential threats, giving officers more time to react effectively.
Capitol Police still believes they are operating in a heightened threat environment due to the political climate and rise in domestic violent extremism, according to the email. Officials believe an attack from a single person, commonly known as a “lone wolf” attack, poses the biggest risk.
Capitol Police maintains there is no known, credible threat to Congress or to the Capitol. The agency said in the email that plans could change if officials learn of new threats.
The agency also plans to maintain a presence of National Guard troops at the Capitol in the coming weeks, as CNN previously reported. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin approved a request from Capitol Police to continue providing 2,300 troops through May 23 last week.
About two to three weeks after the outer fence is removed, Capitol Police will re-evaluate, and likely scale down National Guard support, the email states.
Last week, the Pentagon extended the deployment of National Guard for the protection of the Capitol through May, at the request of Capitol Police. The plan calls for about 2,300 troops to stay at the Capitol through May 23, down from 5,000 troops that were scheduled to be there through March 12.
The decision by Capitol Police to incrementally take on more responsibility echoes ideas from Lt. General Russel Honoré in a recent Washington Post op-ed. Honoré, who led a review of security at the Capitol in the wake of the January 6 riot, said Friday that the fencing surrounding the compound “will do nothing to prevent another attack,” and the threat to our democracy “lies within our borders.”
“The four miles of fences that now ring the Capitol will do nothing to prevent another attack, or to help us understand the underlying failures that allowed the riot to happen,” Honoré wrote in the op-ed, which criticized federal law enforcement’s response before and during the assault on the Capitol complex.
The razor wire and 7-foot fencing put in place after the pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol have become a point of contention between USCP and lawmakers. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have grown increasingly frustrated and swiftly pushed back on USCP’s proposal in late January to build permanent fencing. Honoré said in his piece that the Capitol fencing “provides a false sense of security” and compared it to the wall along the US southern border, which he describes as an “expensive failure.”
The changes come as lawmakers have also expressed frustration about the continued presence of National Guard troops. This month, Capitol Police asked for an extension for National Guard troops, but lawmakers have been unable to gain much clarity from USCP and the Pentagon as to why the deployment of Guard troops was extended from mid-March to May, according to a source familiar with the outreach.
There was even discrepancy within the Department of Defense about how many troops to keep on the ground. Three defense officials confirm that Austin reviewed a proposal to keep fewer than 1,000 troops, but ultimately decided to give USCP the full amount of troops requested.
“There was a discussion” about approving less than 1,000 troops, one defense official told CNN.