Washington, DC – U.S. Park Police officers stationed on the National Mall on Jan. 6 were overrun by violent rioters, even before President Donald Trump gave his speech on the Ellipse, and had to hide inside the Washington Monument.
U.S. Park Police have a unique jurisdiction that puts its officers on the front lines for almost all of the more than 600 protests annually at the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
The federal police department is responsible for protecting the nation’s major landmarks in the DC metropolitan area as well as the Statue of Liberty and Central Park in New York City and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
The department falls under the authority of the Department of the Interior and has for years been the subject of criticism for being grossly understaffed, according to the U.S. Park Police Fraternal Order of Police.
Now-retired U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, the first woman to head up the prestigious agency, was fired in December of 2003 when she spoke out about the shortage of Park Police officers after Congress instituted new security requirements that called for double the number of officers at DC monuments in the wake of 9/11.
“In 2003, when I was sent home after amplifying the alarm that we were severely understaffed, the USPP had 621 officers nationwide,” Chambers told The Police Tribune. “If the BuzzFeed article is accurate, they reported that there are now 508 officers! How is it possible for the organization to fulfill its core missions?”
Chambers appealed her termination and was reinstated as U.S. Park Police chief in January of 2011, and remained the agency’s top cop for three years before she retired.
U.S. Park Police brought in additional officers from their contingent in New York for the events on Jan. 6 and a number of them were staged around the Washington Monument, which is located across Constitution Avenue from the Ellipse behind the White House where President Trump addressed his supporters that morning.
Sources within the Park Police ranks told BuzzFeed News that 200 officers and officials had been assigned to handle the “Stop the Steal” protest that day, despite the fact intelligence had indicated attendance would be far higher than the 5,000 people estimated for the initial permit.
That permit was amended to estimate 30,000 attendees one day before the Capitol riot.
Park Police officials staged members of their SWAT Team near the Ellipse and also near the Capitol building, based on intelligence reports that said protesters were planning to march on Congress, BuzzFeed News reported.
But officers said some of the protesters near the Washington Monument got rowdy before President Trump even took the stage, and rushed the Park Police after they made an arrest.
Officers there said the hostility caused them to huddle up inside a visitor screening room. Trump fans carrying Stop the Steal signs then banged against the glass
Aided by USPP on horses, the group got their "butts out of there" before things got worse by sneaking out the back pic.twitter.com/ERWYgWB4Qf
— Brianna Sacks (@bri_sacks) January 18, 2021
A group of about 150 people breached the barriers that had been set up around the base of the Washington Monument at about 10 a.m. on Jan. 6, BuzzFeed News reported.
Park Police officers retreated into the Visitor Center inside the Washington Monument with the man they had arrested.
One of the officers filmed cell phone video of rioters banging on the windows and screaming threats at them inside the monument.
A cadre of U.S. Park Police mounted units arrived eventually and the officers on horseback were able to help the trapped officers get out the back door of the Washington Monument, according to BuzzFeed News.
Not long after that, U.S. Park Police received an urgent request for help from U.S. Capitol Police.
A small group of Park Police rushed to help fight back the rioters at the U.S. Capitol, but not many could abandon their stations because there were still major security concerns in the areas where the officers were initially deployed.
“We physically didn’t have the ability to put more officers on that detail,” a veteran officer who had been trapped inside the Washington Monument told BuzzFeed News. “That was all we had at that point.”
U.S. Park Police Spokesman Sergeant Roselyn Norment denied staffing issues played a role in what happened on Jan. 6 in DC.
“In advance of the despicable acts that took place on January 6, the U.S. Park Police did bring in additional personnel,” Sgt. Norment said. “We were fully and appropriately staffed to carry out our responsibilities.”
She said Park Police had “fulfilled all resource requests made by U.S. Capitol Police,” according to BuzzFeed News.
There has been a long-running attempt by the Department of the Interior to hide or deny any shortage of law enforcement personnel under their authority.
The police union said there was definitely an understaffing problem on Jan. 6, BuzzFeed News reported.
“People were screaming for help on the radio. It was pure chaos,” veteran USPP Officer Michael Shalton, who is vice president of the FOP, said.
Officer Shalton had been stationed in Virginia during the riot and listened to what occurred over the police radio, according to BuzzFeed News.
“It sounded like officers were constantly asking for help in certain areas and things were totally out of control,” he explained.