January 16, 2021

The Heroic Cops Who Stepped Up on January 6


Dear PERF members, 

As we continue to receive new information about what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, there is something very powerful that cannot be overlooked: the courage, determination, and bravery of cops who were outnumbered but walked into danger and faced it. This was policing at its best. It was good over evil. In today’s column I want to talk about this heroism. 

As I said last week,  we recognize that there were significant lessons to be learned from the planning of this event and the need for a thorough after-action report. But today, let us stop and recognize those  officers who overcame these challenges with great courage.

Much like the cops who rushed to the scene of the 9/11 attacks and charged into the World Trade Center buildings, U.S. Capitol Police and Washington Metropolitan Police officers risked their lives to save Congressional leaders. Tragically, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was killed, and more than 50 were injured as they struggled to protect Vice President Pence, Speaker Pelosi, members of Congress, Congressional staffers, news media reporters, and everyone else who was in the Capitol that day.

Investigators will have no shortage of evidence to consider, including video recordings of the horrific scenes, including many videos taken by the rioters themselves. Watching these videos tells us that cops did their job.

One of the most disturbing videos shows officers being dragged down steps and beaten by a group of rioters with metal pipes taken from scaffolding and other improvised weapons. As you watch the video, note the man in the lower left using an American flag to commit assault, as the terrorists chant “USA! USA! USA!”

Another video shows MPD officer Daniel Hodges being crushed in a doorway between officers defending the Capitol and rioters. Sickeningly, the rioters were chanting “Heave! Ho! Heave! Ho!” to push in a rhythm and increase the force against the officers. Rioters ripped the shield off his helmet, sprayed him with bear spray, and beat him with a baton. These rioters were not innocent demonstrators; they were murderous thugs.


Amid the horror, one video stood out, demonstrating brilliant tactics by Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, whose quick thinking avoided a potentially dangerous confrontation and may have saved lives. Officer Goodman, who had combat experience in Iraq, was facing down a mob of rioters who were advancing into the Capitol. In the second image below, Officer Goodman saw that to his left, there was an open door leading to an entrance to the Senate chamber, where lawmakers and others were waiting to be rescued.  The scene was still so chaotic that the Senate chamber had not yet been secured. To prevent the rioters from heading in that direction, Officer Goodman shoved the leader of the mob, luring him in the opposite direction, down a different hallway and around a corner, where there were additional officers.


We need better less-lethal options. The Capitol riots demonstrate an issue that the policing profession has been struggling with in recent years:  the lack of effective less-lethal force tools

Many people are wondering, “Why didn’t the police use their firearms?”

Here’s the answer to that question, provided by MPD Officer Hodges in an excellent Washington Post story.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who starts shooting, because I knew they had guns,” Officer Hodges said. “We had been seizing guns all day. The only reason I could think of that they weren’t shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost.”

The photos below show the challenge that officers faced, and the limitations of their options. These officers were trying to prevent a mob from entering the House Chamber and threatening members of Congress. That’s different from managing the types of disturbances that police departments face. However, you can see from the photos that the threat was dire, and it appears that all the officers had was their guns. 

If rioters had broken through those doors, they could have attempted to overpower the officers and take members of Congress hostage. This is not idle speculation; rioters running through the Capitol reportedly were demanding to know where Vice President Pence and House Speaker Pelosi had been taken, and some were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”  Others erected a gallows outside the Capitol.

One of the most compelling pictures of the day was when officers held their ground and pointed their weapons at the mob that was threatening to come in.   As you look at that picture, you ask yourself if the mob had broken through the door and outnumbered the officers, what options those officers had. 


This is an opportunity for “Monday morning quarterbacking,” for looking backward and asking questions like, “What do you do when you are outnumbered? Did these officers have any options? Could they have done anything differently?”

And as Inauguration Day grows near, and police in all 50 state capital cities receive warnings about possible uprisings in the coming week, police have to look forward and ask questions like, “Is bringing in the National Guard really a good option, compared to mutual aid agreements with other police departments and sheriffs’ offices?  Isn’t it better to have cops who are trained in crowd control and de-escalation?” Some of us remember when the National Guard was used in the 1960s and was roundly criticized for not having crowd control training. At Kent State University in 1970, the Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine more at a demonstration against the Vietnam war. There is a role for the National Guard, but they should not be put in a position they are not prepared for.

Many PERF members, especially in capital cities, are convening sessions with their command staff and talking about the “what ifs.”

Twenty years ago, after the 9/11 attacks, Congress and President Bush created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, aka the 9/11 Commission, to investigate how such an attack could have happened.  In 2013, following the Boston Marathon bombing, a Congressional committee launched a yearlong study that produced lessons for preventing similar attacks.

Congress no doubt will order an investigation of the events of January 6, and we should make sure that one of the issues they consider is the lack of effective less-lethal tools for police to use in many types of situations, including riots.

New threat: Domestic terrorists

Another issue for Congress to consider, which PERF explored in two Daily Critical Issues Reports this week (here and here), is how police at all levels of government will need to join together to understand and guard against domestic terrorist threats, such as the January 6 rioters, while also keeping an eye on foreign terrorist threats.

As John Miller, NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism, laid out for us in sobering detail, domestic terrorist incidents have been increasing in the last couple years. Gilroy, California. El Paso, Texas. Dayton, Ohio. The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan. And now a deadly terrorist attack on the United States Capitol.      

Deputy Commissioner Miller noted that while many domestic terror events today have been “lone wolf” events, the plot to kidnap the Michigan Governor involved a number of people, and the U.S. Capitol riots involved thousands. John said there may have been a “Lord of the Flies” phenomenon at the Capitol, in which some people did things as part of a group that they would not have done by themselves.

But lest anyone fail to appreciate the level of evil that was manifested on January 6, everyone should read Peter Hermann’s Washington Post story that provides details about the attacks on officers who barely escaped with their lives.

Officer fatalities in 2020

While we discuss the courage of the police officers at the Capitol, we should also note that the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund this week released its annual report on officer fatalities in 2020. Sadly, 264 officers died in line of duty last year, which is about double the number for 2019. That includes 145 confirmed instances of COVID-19 deaths among officers. 

NLEOMF noted that the COVID death toll will increase as additional cases are confirmed. The NLEOMF reported that New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas had seven or more COVID deaths among police officers in 2020. It was a terrible year.

Wishing you all a peaceful week. Weekend Clips are below.