Inside the command center for the US Capitol Police, a handful of officers were going through their routines early Friday morning, cycling through live feeds from the department’s 1,800 cameras used to monitor the nearby Capitol complex as well as some points beyond, when an officer stopped. On a screen showing a darkened street nearly 3,000 miles away, police lights were flashing outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, officials say.
The officer in D.C. quickly pulled up additional camera angles from around Pelosi’s home and began to backtrack, watching recordings from the minutes before San Francisco police arrived. There, on camera, was a man with a hammer, breaking a glass panel and entering the speaker’s home, according to three people familiar with how Capitol Police learned of the break-in and who have been briefed on or viewed the video themselves.
The 911 call and the struggle inside the home that followed have led to charges of attempted homicide of the speaker’s husband, and attempted kidnapping of the speaker, who is second in line to the presidency. The incident has also put a spotlight on the immensity — and perhaps the impossibility — of law enforcement’s task to protect the 535 members of Congress at a time of unprecedented numbers of threats against them.
If the Capitol Police were going to stop an attack at the home of any member of Congress, they had perhaps the best chance to do so at Pelosi’s, according to several current and former law enforcement officials, many of whom spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because the break-in remains under investigation.
The Capitol Police first installed cameras around Pelosi’s home more than eight years ago; she has an around-the-clock security detail; and for many months after the attacks of Jan. 6, 2021, a San Francisco police cruiser sat outside her home day and night. But hours after Pelosi left San Francisco last week and returned to D.C., much of the security left with her, and officers in Washington stopped continuously monitoring video feeds outside her house.
The targeted security and lack of full-time, active surveillance — even at the home of the member of Congress with the most death threats — reflect the competing demands facing local and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the balances that lawmakers, their families, and security officials have tried to strike in the nearly two years since the attack on the Capitol.
The Capitol Police have been working to implement more than 100 security improvements recommended by outside experts, including enhancements to officer training, equipment, protocols, and staffing. But the department has simultaneously faced a tenfold increase in threats to members of Congress, who regularly return to their home districts and crisscross the country.
In a statement Tuesday, Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said that while there have been improvements — for instance, the department is on track to hire 280 additional officers this year — the country’s “political climate” is going to necessitate “additional layers of physical security.”
Manger said the department would emphasize adding “redundancies” to the measures that are already in place for congressional leaders, but he would not describe those, saying they needed to remain confidential to be most effective.
Since the attack on Paul Pelosi, lawmakers have had informal conversations about including additional security measures in a government funding bill that must pass before mid-December. Manger’s statement Tuesday upped the ante, but House Democratic members and aides acknowledged that lawmakers probably will not craft proposals until after the midterm elections.
Threats to lawmakers are not rare but have dramatically increased in the past several years. Since 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president, threats of violence against lawmakers recorded by the Capitol Police have surged from roughly 900 cases in 2016 to 9,625 in 2021. Meanwhile, the share of threats that federal authorities pursue for criminal prosecution in the same period ranged from 7 percent to 17 percent of cases referred by the Capitol Police.
The Capitol Police twice instituted changes to member security — following the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, in 2011, and the 2017 shooting that targeted Republican lawmakers practicing for the yearly Congressional Baseball Game and gravely wounded then-House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. After that shooting, lawmakers were allowed to spend up to $4,000 on installing security systems in their district offices back home.
In the months after Jan. 6, 2021, House Democrats repeatedly reminded leaders that their campaign coffers were not enough to pay for personal security or upgrades to their homes. Congress has, in turn, approved increases to office budgets for individual lawmakers — allowing them to pay for private security to assist them at events back home — and set aside nearly $5 million in a separate fund to allow for security upgrades to their personal residences.
Starting Aug. 15, lawmakers were given up to $10,000 for setting up security systems in their homes. Lawmakers have been told to work with security officials in the Capitol or with their local police to install devices such as indoor and outdoor security cameras; motion sensors; duress buttons; and window, door, and broken-glass monitors.