President Joe Biden signed a bill on Wednesday that allows U.S. Capitol Police to call upon the Washington D.C. National Guard and federal law enforcement agencies during emergency circumstances, without prior approval of the Capitol Police Board.
The bill, known as S.3377 “Capitol Police Emergency Assistance Act of 2021,” comes into law almost a year after hundreds of demonstrators entered the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and clashed with police. National Guard troops equipped for riot control arrived to reinforce Capitol Police hours after the clash at the Capitol began.
A Senate report released in June concluded that the Capitol Police Board failed to request National Guard assistance prior to Jan. 6, despite Capitol Police intelligence indicating that there was a threat. According to the report, the lack of prior request for National Guard assistance meant that when calls for help did come through on Jan. 6, the request had to be sent to the Department of Defense, which introduced further delays as they considered whether or not to grant the request for troops.
This failure to request assistance before Jan. 6 meant that D.C. National Guard troops were not already activated and staged to react quickly to any problems at the Capitol that day.
The “Capitol Police Emergency Assistance Act” allows the chief of the Capitol Police to unilaterally request National Guard and federal law enforcement support, rather than first clearing the request through the Capitol Police Board.
The legislation was brought through a bipartisan effort led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Mark Warner (D-VA).
“January 6th showed us that every minute counts during an emergency. Our report found that Capitol Police officers and their law enforcement partners were left alone to defend the Capitol and our democracy itself from violent insurrectionists, while the Chief of the Capitol Police was delayed in obtaining approval to request help from the National Guard,” Klobuchar said after introducing the legislation earlier this month. “This legislation will help ensure the Capitol Police Chief has the authority needed to call for reinforcements at the Capitol swiftly during emergencies.”
“Our bipartisan investigation into the response failures on January 6th clearly demonstrated the need for the Chief of the U.S. Capitol Police to have more unilateral flexibility to quickly request assistance in an emergency,” Blunt said of the legislation.
Upon signing the legislation, Biden said, “Thank you to Senators Klobuchar, Blunt, King, Wicker, Feinstein, Capito, Merkley, Padilla, and Warner for their leadership.”