Capitol Police add field offices to investigate threats against members of Congress
In a July 6 press release about changes the U.S. Capitol Police is making in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, the agency announced it is adding field offices in Tampa and San Francisco to investigate threats against members of Congress.
Since then, some Republicans have criticized the move as federal overreach or a partisan power play to target Jan. 6 Capitol protesters.
“What in the hell is the Capitol Police doing setting up an office in Tampa, Florida?” Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz said at a recent rally in Largo, Florida, on July 31, as part of his “Florida Man Freedom Tour.”
“I mean, they couldn’t even protect the Capitol in Washington, D.C.,” Gaetz said. “And I am a Florida man, so I am an expert on this, there is no Capitol in Tampa, Florida. It’s not even our state capital. And so I’m increasingly concerned that our federal government and many elements within it are using these exquisite national security authorities to turn against our own people. I will be opposed to the Capitol Police deciding to have mission creep right down the road in the Sunshine State.”
Gaetz is, of course, entitled to his opinion about whether it’s a good idea for Capitol Police to be opening field offices outside of Washington, D.C., but we thought it would be helpful to present some of the claims about USCP’s new field offices and how and why Capitol Police say they are branching out.
‘The future of the Capitol Police’
The announcement about the new field offices came in a July 6 press release from USCP. The release — “After the Attack: The Future of the U.S. Capitol Police” — outlined a series of steps the agency is taking since the Jan. 6 riot to “support our officers, enhance security around the Capitol Complex, and pivot towards an intelligence-based protective agency.”
Among the steps, the release said, the USCP is “in the process of opening Regional Field Offices in California and Florida with additional regions in the near future to investigate threats to Members of Congress.”
Tampa and San Francisco were chosen as the first field offices, a USCP spokesperson told us, because those two states are “where we’re getting a big bulk of the threats.”
The plan in Tampa is to open a small office — “just a few people” — to “speed up the process and work with the authorities in these states, as well as the prosecutors” to make sure these cases are properly investigated, the spokesperson said. So if, for example, someone made a threat against a member of Congress — an email or online post that is deemed a credible threat — the Capitol Police field office would assist the local investigation.
The spokesperson said the Capitol Police plans to open the two field offices by the end of the summer. And it anticipates opening more field offices in other locations around the country in the future.
In response to Gaetz’s comments criticizing the USCP’s field office plan, Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini tweeted that Gaetz “is exactly right” and vowed that next month, he will file legislation “to stop the Capitol Police from creeping into Florida.”
Earlier in July, the Hillsborough County Republican Party — which includes Tampa — tweeted (and then deleted) a letter from party Chairman and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Jim Waurishuk to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calling on the governor to “put an end to the establishment of the Capital Police field office in Tampa.”
“We cannot allow this federal agency to operate in this State, circumventing the authority of our Sheriffs and our State Constitution,” Waurishuk wrote. “We cannot accept the establishment of a federal office that will claim a superior power to the State within our State.”
Waurishuk cited Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution, which he said establishes that the federal government cannot create a presence in the state without the state’s permission.
But some constitutional experts disagree.
“Absolutely this is within the constitutional power of the federal government to create these field offices to ensure they can protect the members when they’re completing their mission—their duties—representing their constituents whether in their home district or in Washington,” Michael McDaniel, a constitutional law professor at the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, told WTSP Channel 10 in Tampa Bay.
“The state’s powers over law enforcement are very broad but within certain carve outs, and this is one of them, the federal government has plenary and primary jurisdiction,” McDaniel said.
A spokesperson for DeSantis criticized the opening of the new field office, but was noncommittal on whether the governor would seek to stop it.
“Congressional Democrats should focus more on the dangerous ‘defund the police’ movement taking hold of the left and less on political schemes,” the spokesperson told WTSP, adding, “When have the FBI or Florida law enforcement ever fallen short when Capitol Police asked for help?”
Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott, however, praised the decision, WTSP reported.
“Senator Rick Scott has been clear that what happened on January 6 was absolutely horrible and disgusting, and that the individuals responsible for attacking the Capitol should be held fully accountable. He will continue to support efforts of Capitol Police and law enforcement,” Scott’s office said in a statement to 10 Tampa Bay.
Meanwhile, nearly 2,500 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding the immediate removal of the field office in Tampa.
The petition claims the office was created “in order to further investigate the events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The field offices are a first for the federal department, and demonstrate the Biden Administration’s efforts to increase federal influence over state and local law enforcement.”
More than 500 people have been charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots: 65 of them are from Florida, and 34 are from California.
But a Capitol Police spokesperson told us that while many of the changes announced in the agency’s press release came in response to recommendations from a series of post-Jan. 6 reviews, the plan to open field offices long predated Jan. 6.
“The false narrative that this was created after the 6th to go after people who breached the Capitol, that is not accurate,” the spokesperson told us in a phone interview.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, said she discussed the expansion plan with Capitol Police officials and the U.S. House sergeant at arms on July 22. Castor told the Tampa Bay Times that Capitol Police officials said they have been planning the field offices since a 2017 shooting that targeted Republicans during a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.
We followed up with the Capitol Police and Appropriations Committee press offices to see if they could provide a paper trail to confirm that USCP was contemplating field offices prior to Jan. 6, but we did not get a response.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the USCP field office will be located in the Tampa Bay Regional Intelligence Center, where agencies including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement also have offices. The FBI also has a Tampa field office.
The Change.org petition “is also calling on the USCP to exclusively protect the U.S. Capitol, which it failed to do on January 6, 2021.”
But the Capitol Police charge is not only to protect the U.S. Capitol buildings and grounds, but also “[m]embers of Congress, officers of Congress, and members of their families” as the Capitol Police Board directs. And the law says Capitol Police officers are authorized to protect them “in any area of the United States,” according to U.S. code.
Castor said USCP’s duties will remain the same, and that the new offices will allow the agency to collaborate more closely with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
“The fact that they’re coming to Tampa to expand law enforcement presence there makes me feel safer,” Castor told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s vitally important that citizens feel safe coming to a (Congressional) office when they have an issue on their veterans’ benefits, their Medicare. I don’t want them to be deterred.”
Still, some criminal justice experts are concerned about the move.
Dorothy M. Schulz, a retired police captain and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, wrote an article highly critical of the Capitol Police’s field office plan for City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute, which Schulz joined as an adjunct fellow in April.
“Why do they need to be located out of DC to contact people or follow up on leads that may come to them but are more likely going to the agencies currently investigating threats against Congresspersons?” Schulz asked us in an email. “Some agency must already be doing this. And they certainly won’t be making any arrests since federal officers can only arrest for federal crimes; that is a major reason for task forces involve officers from federal, state, city, etc. so there is always someone with appropriate jurisdiction. What will they do in CA or FL that they were or were not doing in DC?”
Schulz says she’s also concerned because USCP has had “a number of scandals of its own,” lacks transparency and “has not shown itself to have any investigative expertise.”
“There is very little explanation of what the Capitol Police will be doing in these field offices; it seems that Congress (mostly the House) is looking to extend the range of the Capitol Police for its own benefits; otherwise why not have more experienced investigative agencies look into these supposed new threats against Congress members,” Schulz said.
“Overall, there seems to be no law enforcement reason for this expansion of the Capitol Police,” Schulz said, adding that “the whole thing smacks of politics.”
Again, we take no position on whether USCP ought to expand to field offices outside Washington, D.C. But USCP officials say the expansion plan was put into motion prior to the Jan. 6 riots, and is not an attempt to target those who participated in those riots. In addition, to those who say USCP ought to keep within the confines of the Capitol grounds, federal law says USCP is authorized to protect members of Congress “in any area of the United States.”