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A year after the Capitol riot, work remains to prevent another attack

Newly installed surveillance cameras are positioned near the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.
Olivier Douliery
AFP via Getty Images
Newly installed surveillance cameras are positioned near the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.

The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol led to a transformation of security for the citadel of democracy and members of Congress. One year later, a new team of Capitol security leaders is in place, and a series of congressional committees is still investigating what went wrong that day.

But many say plenty of work remains to ensure that another Jan. 6 never happens again.

"My biggest concern is getting our staffing up," said Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, who came on board in July. "But in terms of responding to events like the 6th, we're so much better prepared than we were a year ago."

In response to the attack, Capitol Police have ramped up intelligence gathering, major event security and its communications. There's also more coordination between the department and other agencies.

But the agency must also contend with a new set of challenges in a post-Jan. 6 world. Several Capitol Police officers died after the attack, more than 80 were injured and more than 130 quit this past year.

And the workload is only growing. In 2021, Capitol Police saw 9,600 threats against lawmakers, more than double the tally five years earlier.

Capitol Police opened two new field offices in the states that have seen the most cases: Florida and California.

"Not all of them rise to the level of a criminal threat. But all of them are cases that we needed to look into," Manger said.

How partisan divides play a role

Congress faces its own internal strife to make progress addressing security concerns.

After Jan. 6, the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans intensified, and so whether Congress can bridge that division and agree on a legislative plan to ensure future, peaceful transfers of presidential power remains to be seen.

In one rare bipartisan security effort this past year, Congress approved legislation to allow the Capitol Police chief to call in emergency backup from the National Guard — a key weakness exposed on Jan. 6 that led to an hours-long delay for more help.

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees Capitol Police, joined forces with Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt on the bill. In December, President Biden signed it into law.

Blunt says he feels safe in the Capitol. "I think the Capitol is more secure because of a greater awareness of what could happen or what can happen," he said.

More challenges loom at the other end of the Capitol, where partisan divisions after Jan. 6 are even more on display.

"I don't necessarily think we feel safer," said California Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar, a member of the Democratic-led House committee investigating the attack.

The Jan. 6 panel was created after Republicans in both chambers blocked a larger plan for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the riot. However, Republicans in the House chamber took those concerns further, boycotting the committee after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rejected several GOP picks.

As a result, Pelosi picked two Republicans in favor of the probe, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, to join the committee.

Now, it's focused on a larger mission of securing the Capitol to ensure a day like Jan. 6 never happens again, through a comprehensive investigation and legislative proposals.

A metal detector stands outside  the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 22, 2021.
Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images
Getty Images
A metal detector stands outside the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 22, 2021.

Many House Democrats say the siege shed light on the threats not just outside the Capitol, but from within.

"We've seen metal detectors as a result of our own members stating that they were carrying weapons after and leading up to that date. So that gives us a lot of pause," Aguilar said.

The House metal detectors were installed days after the siege, much to the chagrin of most Republicans. (There are no metal detectors on the Senate side.)

"It's patronizing, and it's a stunt," said Michigan GOP Rep. Peter Meijer.

"The place I felt least safe on Jan. 6 was inside that chamber. And it wasn't because there weren't metal detectors on the outside," Meijer said.

Many agree that the Capitol, which remains closed to the public at large because of the pandemic, is much safer today. But there are many security issues that have yet to be addressed, Meijer and others say.

"I hope we get to a bit of a stasis where we appreciate and strike a fine balance between, you know, both being open to the public while also being mindful of the need to have a strong layer of security so that Congress can do its job and do its job safely," Meijer said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.