Weekly Column

Public safety has rightfully been on the minds of Americans across the country. Violent crime rates remain high. So far this year, nearly 300 police officers have been shot in the line of duty – an 11% increase from this point in 2020. Deadly drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine continue to flow into the United States at disturbing rates. Regardless of whether you live in a larger city or a small town, so many Americans are worried that their communities simply don’t feel as safe as they used to. 

Law enforcement officials are doing everything they can to try and maintain public safety, but they are fighting a difficult battle with limited resources. In fact, police departments across the country are facing severe staffing challenges – with increased retirements and declines in new applicants.

Many factors contribute to these challenges, but there is no doubt that demonizing the men and women in law enforcement has taken a toll on the morale of many departments’ workforces.

Consider the extreme rhetoric from elected representatives who support the so-called “Defund the Police” movement. This includes comments like “defunding the police isn’t radical, it’s real” or “policing in our country is inherently & intentionally racist.” Folks, this kind of rhetoric isn’t just dangerous, it ignores the sacrifices of thousands of men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line to keep people safe.

Speaking directly with police departments across Nebraska, as well as national law enforcement groups, it is clear federal action is needed to help agencies tackle the workforce crisis they are facing. 

That’s why earlier this month, I introduced the Recruit and Retain Act. This bipartisan legislation would support our law enforcement agencies and make federal programs more responsive to recruiting needs.

First, the bill would boost officer recruitment opportunities through existing Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants. These DOJ grants can serve as a crucial financial lifeline for law enforcement agencies. Under the bill, they also could be used to reduce costs associated with hiring new officers like background checks, psychological tests, and application related fees. These costs can be prohibitively expensive for police departments with limited resources.

Second, my bill would authorize a new initiative called the Pipeline Partnership Program. This exciting program would encourage collaboration between law enforcement agencies and local elementary schools, post-secondary schools, and institutions of higher learning. Partnerships could take many forms, including mentoring, community liaisons, career or job fairs, and work site visits. The overall goal of the program is twofold: help students potentially interested in a future career in law enforcement and strengthen departments’ local hiring.

Another part of the bill would direct the Government Accountability Office to study police department recruitment challenges and how staffing issues are impacting public safety. Shining a light on these trends will help to raise awareness about the severity of problem.

The Recruit and Retain Act would be a significant step toward helping our police departments during this difficult period. The positive impact of this bill is evidenced by the strong support it has already received. This includes support from the police departments of Omaha, Kearney, Grand Island, Scottsbluff, and the Police Chiefs Association of Nebraska, the Nebraska Sheriffs Association, and numerous national police groups.

Without help, strained police departments will have a hard time getting things back on track. Congress must do its part to stand up for the men and women in blue and the heroic work they do every single day. I will continue to work to build support for my bill and other legislation that will help our law enforcement agencies.

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

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