February 6, 2023


It was a long road from killing bugs to battling protesters on the front lines of Jan. 6, 2021.

As a young husband, Dennis Kelly was working as an exterminator to pay the bills when he decided to try to become a cop. He’d be good at it, he thought, and it sounded cool. His wife’s view was less rosy; her dad had been a chaplain for a police department, and police officers would come to their home to get counseling. She saw what they went through, what they grappled with afterward. But she supported her husband’s decision. 

Mr. Kelly took the New Jersey civil service exam and tried finding a job with local police departments, but some officer’s relative always seemed to get hired instead. So he got his start in a new federal detention center in Philadelphia. A year later, 9/11 hit. Law enforcement officers were in demand. He saw a “hot jobs” icon on a government website and clicked. It was a Capitol Police position. 

Why We Wrote This

Capitol Police has implemented dozens of recommendations since the 2021 attack caught its force off guard. But some say a deeper cultural shift is needed to protect the Capitol and those who work there, including officers.

“I thought, ‘Oh, Capitol Hill – I’ll never get hired, but what the heck, I’ll apply for it,’” he recalls. Now a retired lieutenant, he still remembers the awe he felt when he first entered an area of the 200-year-old building closed to the public. And he recalls the sense of honor he felt in upholding fellow citizens’ First Amendment rights, no matter how tired his feet got on the 12-hour shifts.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor

Lt. Dennis Kelly, seen here with his wife, Katherine, in La Plata, Maryland. He retired from the Capitol Police in April 2022 after nearly two decades with the department. He led a Civil Disturbance Unit platoon on the West Front of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, helping to defend a key lower door against a second breach of the Capitol.

“Protesting is part of the American fabric, and I was always proud that I had a small part in making sure people had a right to say what they wanted to say,” says Lieutenant Kelly. That’s part of what hurt so much on Jan. 6, when protesters attacked him and his platoon on the West Front of the Capitol with flag poles, baseball bats, bear spray, bolts – anything they could get their hands on. “I felt like, ‘I’m helping you to protest and redress your government.’”

Like so many others, he was blindsided by the assault, carried out by some of the same kinds of people who usually waved “Back the Blue” flags and professed their love for police. 



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