WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) spoke on the Senate floor today to mark National Police Week and honor the brave men and women serving in law enforcement. During her remarks, Senator Fischer discussed her Recruit and Retain Act, which would help law enforcement agencies tackle staffing roadblocks. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the legislation out of committee by a voice vote today.
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Following is a transcript of Senator Fischer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
This week is National Police Week. It’s an opportunity to show our gratitude to the men and women in blue who risk their lives every day for our safety, as well as honor those who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty.
This Police Week, I want to tell the story of a police chief in my home state of Nebraska.
Local broadcast outlet KETV recently interviewed the new police chief of Ashland, a city of about 3,000 on the eastern side of the state.
According to KETV, Chief Ryan Brady worked 19 days in a row at one point last year. He logged over 170 hours of work in a two-week period.
Brady clocked more than 800 overtime hours last year — but he’s on salary, so he’s not paid for any of it.
I’m amazed at Chief Brady’s dedication to the job. He works day shifts, night shifts, and picks up his partners’ shifts when they get sick.
But why does he have to work so much?
Well, because his department has encountered a staffing crisis.
Between retirements and trouble recruiting, the Ashland police department has dwindled down to only a handful of officers.
Chief Brady told KETV: “Somebody’s got to work, so the buck stops here. So, you know, if no one else can work, I work.”
I’ve spoken with police officers and sheriffs all over the state, and I can tell you this is not a problem that’s unique to Ashland. No, it’s not even a problem unique to Nebraska. Severe police staffing shortages are affecting departments across our country.
The Police Executive Research Forum found that agencies are losing officers faster than they can hire new ones. There were 47 percent more resignations in 2022 than 2019, in addition to 19 percent more retirements over the same time period. That means large groups of officers are leaving the force while few are trickling in.
Understaffed departments are doing their best to keep up with these changes, but there are also roadblocks we can help remove when it comes to hiring.
Over the past year, I worked with police departments across Nebraska as well as national law enforcement groups representing departments around the country. From these conversations, I introduced the Recruit and Retain Act, which would help police departments tackle these staffing roadblocks.
This bipartisan bill would boost officer recruitment opportunities through the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services hiring grants.
These grants can keep departments afloat, but recruitment expenses like background checks, psychological evaluations, and other tests are not currently included as eligible expenses. The bill would allow COPS grants to cover these specific costs and make it easier to onboard new officers. Reducing the cost of hiring would go a long way in helping law enforcement raise staffing levels.
My bill would also establish the Pipeline Partnership Program, a new initiative aimed at fostering youth 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 local hiring pipeline for police departments.
Finally, the bill would direct the Government Accountability Office to study both the causes of these latest recruitment and retention challenges, as well as the effects they have on public safety.
I want to thank Senator Coons for working with me on this bill for many months, as well as Senators Cornyn and Klobuchar. It was great to see that the Judiciary Committee passed this bill by voice vote today, and I look forward to its advancement.
I was also glad to join my colleague Senator Cornyn to help introduce two bills that further support law enforcement’s tireless work.
The Project Safe Neighborhoods Act of 2023 would reauthorize the Project Safe Neighborhoods Program through fiscal year 2026.
The PSN program is an effective, bipartisan solution to violent crime that’s been working since 2001.
In Nebraska, PSN coordinates enforcement and prosecution partnerships among federal, state, and local law enforcement, in addition to involvement to Nebraska communities, to bring violent offenders to justice.
The second bill, the Back the Blue Act, would protect police officers by creating new federal criminal penalties for attacking federal law enforcement officers.
Too often, police officers are harmed rather than honored in our country. It’s time we made a federal statement that attackers will be punished.
Another vital area to continue addressing is the mental health of police officers, who face daily strains from the intensity of their jobs. I’m planning to reintroduce a bill that would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to create a publicly accessible online dashboard so that organizations, including law enforcement groups, can easily search for federal funding opportunities that support mental health.
Potential applicants would be able to search for the right mental health grants and track the status of those grants.
This bill could truly be a lifeline to officers reeling from staffing issues or difficult cases.
In his interview, Ashland police chief Brady said: I love this community. The hours that I’m putting in are because of my care for the people.
That dedication is what we honor during National Police Week. But let’s not leave our appreciation for our selfless, hardworking police officers behind on Saturday when Police Week ends. I urge my colleagues to continue backing the blue throughout the year and especially to pass these critical bills.
Thank you. I yield the floor.
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