In the wake of the historic attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, former Capitol Police Chief Steve Sund has been a pretty busy man for someone who resigned his position under pressure shortly after the invasion of the Capitol by right-wing groups and supporters of Pres. Donald Trump while the certification of the 2020 presidential election was being conducted.
First, Sund said he had to request to testify before Congress during the investigation of the Jan. 6 attack after initially being excluded from the witness list.
Then, he wrote and published a book entitled Courage Under Fire: Under Siege and Outnumbered 58 to 1 on January 6, which he said he tried to make an “apolitical and unbiased” account, and which includes a personal, minute-by-minute insider view of the Capitol attack.
He’s been awarded a Congressional gold medal twice—one official and one not—for his service during the Jan. 6 attack (more on that below).
The Center for Homeland Defense and Security alum (Master’s Program cohort 0905/0906) has continued to serve as a guest speaker and panelist for the Center’s educational programs and events.
In January, shortly after the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack, Sund visited a CHDS Emergence class to share leadership lessons learned during a long career in law enforcement, as well as the top takeaways from the Jan. 6 attack.
Sund said the Emergence session “turned into a really good talk,” noting that there were several law enforcement officers in the class and an active question-and-answer exchange.
One of the key takeaways from Jan. 6, according to Sund, was the importance of forming relationships with stakeholders and partners in advance of an incident so one can be confident about getting support when needed.
Sund said the “importance of relationships can’t be overstated,” noting as an example a call he made ahead of the Capitol attack with DC Metropolitan Police (MPD) Assistant Chief Jeffrey Carroll to express concern about the size of the crowds of protesters. He said MPD had deployed special bicycle police capable of navigating and controlling the crowds, adding that if those officers had not responded as quickly and effectively as they did, the Capitol assault might have happened sooner and quicker, potentially trapping members of Congress.
Sund said another major lesson from Jan. 6 is ensuring information and intelligence gets to the key decision-makers. He said he now knows there was a lot of intel that other agencies had in advance of the Capitol assault that never made it into his intelligence reports and “should have been shared.” This included a possible planned attack on the Capitol and threats on social media to shoot Capitol Police officers. He also noted that U.S. military leaders had considered “locking down the city” but never told him.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Sund said. “You can’t verify intelligence if it’s not in your reports. You do your best to put the best people in the right places and check in with them often. Always stress test policies and people.”
Finally, Sund said it’s essential to take care of your people and yourself when traumatic events occur. He said he always made it a point to visit all aspects of the Capitol Police agency in an effort to get to know those working under his command.
He said prioritizing wellness is “really important for a traumatic event” like Jan. 6, noting that the attack “affected every single person in the Capitol Police,” including both sworn officers and civilian staff, as well as having a “profound impact on their families.”
Sund said his book, Courage Under Fire, emerged after he wrote a lengthy letter to Congress about Jan. 6 that drew no response. He then had to request to testify before a joint Congressional session on the Capitol assault. He said he wrote up notes for his testimony that developed over a 14-month period into a manuscript hundreds of pages long that would turn into the book.
“I felt like I needed to submerge myself into something,” he said.
After his book was published, Sund learned about plans to award Congressional gold medals to members of the Capitol Police and MPD police in December to recognize their efforts to defend the Capitol on Jan. 6. Since he wasn’t invited, he said he watched the Capitol Rotunda ceremony on TV.
About two months later, Sund said he got a call from some of his former colleagues with the Capitol Police asking him to bring his family to a meeting. When he arrived, a group of about 15 Capitol Police officers presented him with a replica Congressional gold medal made available for purchase to the public and thanked him for his service, which Sund said “meant a tremendous amount to me” to be recognized by his law enforcement peers.
After media coverage of the unofficial event made it clear that Sund should have been awarded an official Congressional gold medal, one arrived in the mail less than a week later.
Asked which medal meant more to him, Sund said, “You already know the answer to that question.”