Police Week 2017
In 1962, President Kennedy signed a joint resolution passed by Congress proclaiming the week of May 15th as “National Police Week,” to honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial located in Washington, DC, is our country’s monument to these fallen officers. Carved into the marble walls of the Memorial are the names of the more than 20,000 officers killed in the line of duty throughout our nation’s history.
Every year, tens of thousands of fellow officers from around the world come to the nation’s capital as part of Police Week to pay tribute to the men and women whose names are inscribed on this wall.
In 2016, we lost 143 of our finest in the line of duty. That list of the fallen officers includes 5 of my fellow Iowans. There is no year in recent memory in which so many Iowans have lost their lives in service to justice and public safety.
It’s easy to go about our daily lives, taking for granted the safety we enjoy because of the dedicated service of law enforcement personnel. But these public servants deserve our thanks for keeping our communities safe and orderly. Police Week is a time to reflect on their selfless work and to show our gratitude.
As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am working to support law enforcement through various legislative efforts.
The Senate just recently approved the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act, a bipartisan bill I introduced with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. The loved ones of law enforcement officers who run toward danger and pay the ultimate price to protect the public are entitled to the support we promise. But some of my oversight work showed that the Justice Department has been slow in processing claims for death and disability benefits. In some instances, they’ve been secretive about the status of applications and even reluctant to pay legitimate claims.
After hearing from Iowa families about this problem and seeing it time and again in my oversight work, I held a hearing on the issue. Sheriff Langenbau of Worth County, Iowa gave moving testimony about the difficulties and pain of his family’s three-year-long wait.
“It would be helpful for me to be able to tell colleagues that they can expect to receive assistance from the PSOB office within a few months rather than 3 plus years in the event of a tragedy.” -Sheriff Langenbau
That Iowa family was sadly not alone. As many as 1,500 other families have had to endure similarly painful waits since 2009. So we are making legislative changes to the program. The bill improves transparency so families can stay updated on the status of their application and creates presumptions that favor officer. The goal is to reduce wait times for families of fallen officers to get an answer on the benefit claim.
Now that the Senate has unanimously passed this bill, we are working with our colleagues in the House of Representatives to get it passed and to the President’s desk as soon as possible.
This week, the Senate also unanimously passed the Rapid DNA Act. This bill will require the FBI to issue standards for a faster DNA analysis process known as Rapid DNA. Agencies that follow those standards can then include their own Rapid DNA results in the national database. It may sound very intricate, but the goal is to simplify the process and make law enforcement officers’ jobs easier.
This week, the Senate also unanimously passed another bill in the Judiciary Committee, the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act. This bill directs the departments of Justice, Defense and Veterans Affairs to identify mental health practices at their agencies that can be adopted to law enforcement agencies.
As a society, we lay a heavy burden of tough choices on law enforcement officers. Those tough choices can create a tremendous amount of stress for officers. I know many are deeply impacted by the difficulties of their duties, including the necessary use of force, and how hard those very lonely decisions can be for mental health. This bill will help expand mental health services available to law enforcement officers.
Last week, the committee approved the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act, which will enable veterans to receive a preference in hiring under the COPS grant program. Over the years, we have seen bipartisan support for expanding the purposes and uses of COPS grant funding beyond simply placing police officers on the streets.
These bills are some of the most recent efforts in a long line of legislation that I have shepherded through the Judiciary Committee over the years to support law enforcement. I’ve also supported Byrne/JAG grants, which have benefited the drug task forces all over the country, and I’ve pushed for laws against money laundering and human smuggling. I also led the push to reauthorize the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant program.
I plan to continue my legislative efforts to support law enforcement where I can. But as much as legislation can help, it’s community support that can make the biggest difference. So, I encourage everyone to find a way, big or small, this week to celebrate Police Week and show appreciation for our law enforcement officers.
And to all the members of the American law enforcement community: Thank you.