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Insurrection fallout: The hunt for a new US Capitol Police Chief

Four months after the attack on the US Capitol exposed massive failures of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, Capitol Hill security officials have just a few more weeks to solicit candidates for what may be one of the hardest policing jobs in America.

The deadline to apply to be the next chief of the US Capitol Police is May 17, with officials hoping to hire someone by this summer. Whoever is chosen as the new chief of the 2,500-person department will have a massive task.

On top of taking over a force still reeling from the violence of the January 6 attack and beset by low-morale, a new chief will have to manage the immense political pressure that comes with the job, usher in a litany of unknown but almost certainly controversial new security recommendations, and work within a system of overlapping law enforcement and military jurisdictions. All that while answering to multiple bosses, appeasing hundreds of members of Congress and their staffs, and pulling in a salary of about $174,000, which is well-below the pay for some other comparable police chief jobs.

“Someone who is looking for this because of the salary is the wrong person,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of Police Executive Research Forum, the non-profit group assisting the search.

“They’ll realize they are dedicating themselves to the seat of power and doing it at a time when the department is challenged,” Wexler said.

For all its significance, the authority is, in many ways, restrained. The Capitol Police chief reports to the Capitol Police Board, a three-person group composed of the Senate and House Sergeants at Arms and the Architect of the Capitol.

“The chief is whipsawed between partisan politicians and career professionals like the two Sergeants at Arms and then congressional staff,” said one former Hill security official who knows the job well.

“Chiefs work for either a mayor or city council or county council or county executive,” the official said. “Here they literally have hundreds of people who think they’re their bosses.”

In a February hearing to examine the failures of January 6, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund provided a glimpse of the hurdles of the job — suggesting even some small decisions require approval.

“I can’t even give my men and women cold water on an excessively hot day without a declaration of emergency,” said Sund, who led the department from 2019 until January, when he resigned following intense criticism of his leadership and a call from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he step down.

Police chief jobs are by nature high-pressure, but those demands are usually offset by strong public sector salaries.

In Santa Monica, California, the city is advertising up to about $290,000 a year for a new chief to lead a police department of 443 employees, according to a job posting on the International Associations of Chiefs of Police webpage.

In nearby Arlington County, Virginia, officials are also searching for a new chief to run the 460-person department for between about $121,000 and $245,000, according to the IACP job posting.

The Capitol Police chief spot is higher profile, but lower paying. Capitol Police employs about 2,000 sworn officers and 500 employees, runs tight security for visible members of Congress such as Pelosi, and protects one of the biggest targets in America.

The job posting on PERF’s website acknowledges that, following the riot and the car-ramming attack that killed Officer Billy Evans in April, Capitol Police face “some of the most difficult challenges in its 193-year history.”

Acting chief wants the job

A Capitol Police spokesperson confirmed acting Chief Yogananda Pittman is applying for the position. The spokesman declined to say if any other members of the force applied.

One of the challenges Pittman faces is her standing among the union that represents the majority of the department’s uniformed officers and her previous role as the head of intelligence and operations at the department.

In February, the United States Capitol Police Labor Committee organized a vote of no confidence in which a majority of those who participated voted against her leadership.

Prior to her position as acting chief, Pittman served as assistant chief for protective and intelligence operations and oversaw all safety and security operations for the US Capitol. Those are the very systems that collapsed catastrophically, and it may be difficult for Pittman to recast her role on January 6 as something other than a failure.

If the union had its way, the board would hire a different Capitol Police insider.

“The union would like to see a Chief that will work with the Union,” United States Capitol Police Labor Committee Executive Director Gus Papathanasiou said in an email to CNN.

He added that the new chief must “rejuvenate” the department.

Not the first time Capitol police has been in this position

The last time the Capitol Police sought a new leader following a major crisis was in the wake the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Wexler assisted the Capitol Police Board’s search then and pointed out both incidents represent a failure of imagination. Back then, Wexler’s team landed on Terry Gainer, who served as chief of the Capitol Police from 2002 through 2006, then served as the Senate sergeant at arms until 2014.

Prior to assuming Chief of Capitol Police, Gainer served in various policing roles in Illinois, ascending to the director of the Illinois State Police. In 1998, he moved to Washington to serve as the second-in-command for the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.

Gainer, now a CNN contributor, disputes any notion the chief has limited control and called serving in that position “an honor.”

“I think the chief has a tremendous amount of control,” Gainer said. “I think it’s a highly desirable job.”

Gainer added as the department evolves into a new era, the Capitol Police Board, the ultimate hiring body, will choose between insiders with the institutional knowledge to navigate tempestuous political waters, or, outsiders ready to redesign the department and its mission.

“I don’t think there should be a closed mind about either of those possibilities,” Gainer said. “But I do think the inside candidates will have a more difficult job to explain where they were and what they did way prior to the 6th of January but even on the 6th of January.”

Wexler’s team is actively soliciting input from members of the Capitol Police, creating an anonymous web-based survey for feedback and insight that was viewed by CNN.

One long-time police chief agreed to speak to CNN on the condition of anonymity because he is considering applying. The former chief told CNN the Capitol Police chief job’s potential for decades-long change has him eyeing the position, despite the lower-end pay and political pressures.

“It’s the ultimate challenge in the profession right now,” the former chief said. “If you believe in and love the profession and the people who are in it, it’s time to step up and have an impact in a positive way.”

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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