WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl and Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees Wednesday to mark National Police Week and to outline bipartisan legislation in support of law enforcement officials and their families as they work to keep Ohio communities safe.
On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed three bills that Brown cosponsored. The bills now await action by the House.
“As we honor the work and sacrifices made by our law enforcement officers throughout Police Week, we need to offer more than kind words – we need action to support law enforcement as they work to keep Ohio communities safe,” said Brown. “Our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line each day to protect us. This Police Week, we owe them more than gratitude – we must do all we can to support the men and women that selflessly serve our communities and country every single day.”
According to Brown, his bill would:
1. Put pressure on the Department of Justice to speed up claims processing so families of disabled officers or fallen officers get the benefits they are owed more quickly.
The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act of 2017 was passed unanimously by the Senate Tuesday. The bill would update legislation signed into law in 1976 that provides federal benefits to the family members of fallen officers. The bill would work to clear the backlog in the benefits process and would require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to post weekly status updates for the total number of pending claims on its website and report statistics related to those claims to Congress twice a year.
The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and is also cosponsored by Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
2. Authorize police departments to use certain federal grant funding to hire veterans as law enforcement officers.
The American Law Enforcement Heroes Act of 2017 was also passed unanimously by the Senate Tuesday. Brown’s bill prioritizes federal grant applications for DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) funding for those departments and agencies that seek to use COPS funding to hire veterans.
The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and is also cosponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Chris Coons (D-DE), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Todd Young (R-IN).
3. Help law enforcement agencies establish or enhance mental health care services, like peer mentoring pilot programs and crisis hotlines, for their officers.
The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act would direct the Department of Justice to conduct studies of mental health practices and services for officers and make grant funding available for law enforcement agencies to develop or improve existing mental health services for officers, including crisis hotlines and annual health checks. The Senate passed the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act unanimously passed the Senate yesterday.
The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Todd Young (R-IN) and is cosponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
4. Increase access to federal scholarship dollars for the children of public safety officers killed in the line of duty.
The Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act would increase access to Pell Grant scholarships for children of public service officers who are killed in the line of duty, including police, firefighters, and EMS workers. With this bill, if the child of the fallen public service officer qualifies for a Pell Grant, they would be eligible for the maximum award authorized by law.
The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and is also cosponsored by Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Pat Toomey (R-PA).
The bill has been introduced and has been assigned to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Brown also highlighted his work in calling for full funding of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership, a program through DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs to provide funding for local and state law enforcement to acquire bulletproof vests for officers. The Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, National Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, National Tactical Officers Association, National Association of Police Organizations, Major Cities Chief’s Association, Major County Sheriffs’ Association, Sergeants’ Benevolent Association, and the National Narcotics Officers’ Association have voiced support for Brown’s effort.
Wednesday, Brown also wrote to DOJ urging the agency to speed up the distribution of federal funding for the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Grant Program, which provides funding to police departments to train first-responders as they deal with opioid related incidents, and to purchase resources and devices to use in the field to protect themselves against these deadly drugs. The grant program was created as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which Brown supported.
Last month, Brown also worked with his colleagues Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to introduce bipartisan legislation to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) keep the deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl, out of the country. Brown’s bill, the INTERDICT Act, would provide CBP with additional high-tech screening equipment and lab resources to detect fentanyl before it enters the U.S. According to a report from the Ohio Department of Health, fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Ohio more than doubled from 503 in 2014 to 1,155 in 2015. Several state and national law enforcement organizations have endorsed Brown’s bill.
Brown was joined on the call by Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl and Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees.
“I applaud the action of the United States Senate in taking prompt action on key legislation to support law enforcement personnel and their families. With the increasing complexity of the law enforcement and public safety environment, including its increased lethality in recent years, it is even more vital that the safety and health needs of law enforcement personnel are optimally met. Even more so, in those instances where law enforcement officers are disabled or killed in the performance of their duties, from which critical needs arise both immediately and long-term, it is paramount that federal benefits to surviving family members are provided expeditiously,” said Biehl.
National Police Week honors law enforcement officers and their families and serves as a remembrance of officers who have died in the line of duty. The commemoration of National Police Week began in 1962 under a proclamation signed by President John F. Kennedy.