New Capitol Police Misconduct Complaint Report Obscures More Than it Reveals

Complaints about U.S. Capitol Police operations, including accounts of racist misconduct within the department and managerial abuses of power, have recently been elevated in the wake of the January 6th attack on Congress. Hard information is hard to come by as it is nearly impossible to get any official data on employee misconduct from the department. There is, however, one small exception: the USCP Annual Statistical Summary Report on Office of Professional Responsibility Investigations.

The Annual Statistical Summary Report provides top line numbers on complaints made against US Capitol Police employees. The report indicates how many misconduct investigations occurred in a given year and how many total charges or allegations of misconduct were filed. Its data is broken out by the status of the individual filing the complaint: citizen, outside law enforcement, internal, or anonymous. Starting in 2019, USCP began including figures of how many individual charges/allegations of misconduct were sustained in Office of Professional Responsibility investigations. 

Today we are publishing the newly obtained 2020 Annual Statistical Summary Report. (It is generous to call this a report: it is a one-page fact sheet.) We previously published reports dating back to 2009, which is when the first report of this type was published online. We asked for data from prior years, but our request was denied. 

Table of OPR Case Summary Statistics. There are 15 citizen complaint cases and 22 citizen allegations. There are 69 department investigation cases and 83 department investigation allegations. There are 17 internal complaint cases and 25 internal complaint allegations. There are 5 referred by law enforcement cases and 7 referred by law enforcement allegations. There are 106 total cases and 137 total allegations. There are 58 sustained allegations.

We have published the data from 2009-2020 in a spreadsheet format. Unlike the format provided by the USCP, this spreadsheet allows you to understand trends over time.

The 2020 report identifies 106 misconduct cases and 137 separate charges or allegations. We analyzed the data and reached the following conclusions: 

  1. Complaint cases dropped by nearly 50% from the previous year: USCP reported 227 complaint cases in 2019 versus 106 in 2020. A decrease in complaints may seem positive, but we cannot tell what it means. It is possible the decline stems from the pandemic (and fewer people on campus), new obstacles to reporting misconduct, changes in reporting standards, or other causes that we cannot determine.
  1. Changes in the reporting mechanism could obscure the truth: the majority of misconduct cases (69) & charges/allegations (83) were categorized as “Department Investigation,” a newly introduced complainant category. The department does not define the new category and did not respond to our request for a definition. As a result, we do not know what this is or what it might mean. It also makes long-term comparisons difficult.
  1. At least 42% of charges or allegations were sustained by OPR investigations. 58 charges/allegations have been sustained so far — investigations are ongoing for an additional 20 cases. We do not know how many charges/allegations were lodged per case.

The following chart shows the total number of misconduct cases against USCP employees, broken out by source of the complaint:

Bar chart of misconduct case investigations from 2009 to 2020. Each year's bar is divided into anonymous complaints, outside law enforcement complaints, citizen complaints, internal complaints, and department investigations (for 2020 only).

The total number of complaints dropped significantly, but we cannot tell why. In addition, the number of internal complaints increased significantly in recent years until 2020, at which point internal complaints plummeted to just 16% of misconduct cases, and 18% of total charges/allegations. By contrast, internal complaints were 82% of all cases in 2019. The new complaint category “Department Investigation” has superseded internal complaints as the most common cause of investigation, however we cannot say whether or how these complaints substantively differ from internal complaints. USCP declined to provide us with a definition of the new category. 

In addition to creating a new category of complaints, for 2020 USCP included reporting on the number of “separate charges/allegations.” This information was omitted from the 2019 summary report despite being included in every summary report since 2010. We do not know why it was omitted, but it makes apples-to-apples comparisons difficult.

USCP also included data on sustained charges/allegations for the second year in a row. At the time of publishing, USCP had reviewed 86 of 106 cases with an unknown number of total charges/allegations. 58 charges/allegations have been substantiated so far:

Pie chart distribution of sustained charges (42%) versus non substantiated or tbd charges (57%).

If we have learned anything from recent months, it is that increased communication and transparency are critical to USCP’s ability to keep Congress and the Capitol safe. And yet, testimony by the Capitol Police Chief before House Legislative Branch Appropriations recently indicated that the USCP does not have intentions to keep key stakeholders, the press and public, informed.

We strongly recommend Capitol Police institute the following improvements to its complaint reporting system:

  • Proactively publish the Annual Statistical Summary Reports online; currently they are by request only and traditionally require correspondence sent by mail.
  • Provide more details about the people reporting misconduct and the types of misconduct being reported to highlight which areas need the most improvement.
  • Facilitate holding bad actors accountable by helping to identify when charges are repeatedly brought against the same individual.

Download the 2009-2020 complaint data as an excel file here. This article is an update of pieces from 2019 & 2020 on Capitol Police employee misconduct. 

— Written by Amelia Strauss