Weekly Column

This Monday is National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day — an opportunity to thank the men and women who keep Nebraskans safe. It’s particularly important that we use this special day to celebrate our law enforcement officers because in some parts of the country their life-saving work is undervalued and even demonized.

That life-saving work was on full display recently as the Midwest was hit with intense winter storms. During the December storms in Nebraska, law enforcement responded to hundreds of incidents. While others gathered with relatives for the holiday, many officers had to spend Christmas Day away from their families on the road answering the call of duty.

The Nebraska State Patrol alone reported that its troopers performed 517 motorist assists and 27 crash responses on December 21 and 22, when extreme wind chill and snow swept across our state. Officers, dispatchers, plow teams, tow truck drivers, and first responders worked around the clock to help those in danger. In one instance, the state patrol partnered with the Oglala Sioux Tribe Search and Rescue, using snowmobiles to save stranded motorists from a precarious, remote road near the South Dakota border.

These are just a few examples of the heroic actions law enforcement officers take every day. Our officers go above and beyond for us, so it’s critical that we do our part to support their work in the community. My bill, the Recruit and Retain Act, is one way we can ensure police departments get more of the resources they deserve.

Speaking with law enforcement across Nebraska, I know many departments are concerned about inadequate staffing levels. There has been an increase in retirements and a decline in new applications. Understaffed departments are doing their best to keep up, but there are ways we can help them reduce the costs associated with hiring.

My legislation would boost officer recruitment opportunities through the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants so departments can cover costs related to the hiring process. These grants are a financial lifeline for departments, but recruitment expenses like background checks, psychological evaluations, and other tests are not currently included as eligible expenses. Reducing the strain of these costs would go a long way in helping law enforcement raise staffing levels.

The bill would also establish the Pipeline Partnership Program, a new initiative aimed at fostering student interest in law enforcement careers. Departments and local schools would work together to launch mentorship opportunities, job fairs, and other activities that give young people better insight into law enforcement work. This program would bolster community relationships and open up a stronger hiring pipeline for police departments.

Finally, the bill would direct the Government Accountability Office to study both the causes of these latest recruitment challenges and the effects they have on public safety.

The Recruit and Retain Act is just one of many legislative changes I hope we will make this Congress to support the men and women devoted to protecting their communities. This Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, I am especially thankful for the law enforcement officers across Nebraska who put themselves in harm’s way to keep folks safe. These officers embody the values of self-sacrifice and caring for others, and I hope that you’ll join me today in showing your appreciation for their public service.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.