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How Much Support Did The Attack On The U.S. Capitol Have From Police?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The acting U.S. attorney for D.C. says the scope of the investigation into last week's insurrection is, quote, "unprecedented." Over the weekend, federal prosecutors charged more people, adding to a list of defendants that's expected to grow into the hundreds. So what more do we know about the Capitol riot and who was involved? NPR's Greg Myre will have the latest on the arrests in a few minutes. But first, NPR's Martin Kaste reports on how much support the rioters got from police.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Investigators are still pouring over the online imagery and compiling lists of potential suspects. And the acting U.S. attorney for D.C., Michael Sherwin, fully expects that some may turn out to be cops.

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MICHAEL SHERWIN: There were thousands of people here. And whether they were bakers, candlestick makers, law enforcement, firefighters - yeah, I think we're going to see a wide variety of people that participated. And unfortunately, some of those people, I think, are going to be law enforcement officers, which - that's troubling.

KASTE: Sherwin says if there's evidence that officers broke the law, they will face charges. If they were peaceful, then it becomes a question of whether they broke their agency's rules. Police departments around the country are now investigating reports of their officers spotted in Washington. Andrew Myerberg runs the Office of Police Accountability in Seattle, where two officers are under scrutiny.

ANDREW MYERBERG: I do think that officers, like anyone else, should be allowed to - and are allowed to - attend rallies. The question with the rally here, though, is, was the participation of the officers - did it go over the line of just being at a political rally to supporting insurrection or supporting a violation of the U.S. Constitution or the laws of a jurisdiction?

KASTE: Complicating matters is the fact that American policing has become closely associated with the cause motivating that crowd at the Capitol. The Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Trump twice. And the thin blue line flags were fixtures at his rallies. That made it all the more shocking for many cops to see scenes like this on Wednesday.

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KASTE: Trump supporters attacking Capitol police and cursing them.

JOSEPH GIACALONE: The cops, in the end, have no friends. And this is now the prime example of that.

KASTE: That's Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He wishes that police would stay politically neutral.

GIACALONE: If they don't learn from this mistake about getting behind political candidates, then I don't know what it's going to take.

KASTE: Giacalone says he got a bad feeling about Trump in 2017 when the president infamously told an audience of police that when they handle suspects, quote, "don't be so nice." He says that just undermined confidence in police and made the job harder. Now as Trump heads out the door, it's unclear if American policing can extricate itself from the MAGA brand. At least a couple of local police union leaders have minimized the responsibility of Trump supporters for the riot, while many rank-and-file cops continue to back the president in part because they don't like what they're hearing from the incoming administration - for instance, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' response to the Capitol siege last week.

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KAMALA HARRIS: We witnessed two systems of justice when we saw one that let extremists storm the United States Capitol and another that released tear gas on peaceful protesters last summer.

KASTE: To cops, that's an unfair comparison. Yes, there were huge security failures at the Capitol. But they say there was also tear gas there and violence and deaths. And they heard her comment as a harbinger of more of what they see as the Democrats' anti-police bias. And Giacalone says it's more proof that cops are better off just not lining up on either political side.

Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.