Weekly Column

May 23 2023

Supporting Our Police

This past week was National Police Week. I signed onto the U.S. Senate’s annual resolution commemorating Police Week and officers that have fallen in the line of duty, as I do each year. Our law enforcement officers in Nebraska and across the country are vital to our country’s flourishing, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to honor them.

On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee passed my bipartisan bill supporting police, the Recruit and Retain Act, by a unanimous voice vote. 

The police staffing crisis is widespread, straining law enforcement agencies in Nebraska and throughout our country. One study by the Police Executive Research Forum found that agencies are losing police 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. Large groups of officers are leaving the force, but few new officers are trickling in.

I’ve spoken with police officers and sheriffs all over Nebraska, and my conversations with them motivated me to introduce the Recruit and Retain Act. Law enforcement agencies are struggling—whether it’s the many that are severely understaffed or the ones barely hanging on at fully staffed levels. While they are doing their best to keep up with changes, there are some roadblocks we in Congress can help remove when it comes to hiring.

The Recruit and Retain Act would make three legislative strides to help police departments. First, it would boost officer recruitment opportunities through the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring grants. Recruitment expenses like background checks, psychological evaluations, and other tests are not yet included under COPS hiring grants. The Recruit and Retain Act would allow COPS grants to cover those key costs, making it easier to onboard new officers. A lower cost of hiring means that departments would have more of an ability to raise staffing levels quickly.

Second, Recruit and Retain would boost police recruitment levels by establishing the Pipeline Partnership Program, an initiative aimed at fostering youth interest in law enforcement careers. Under the bill, police departments would work with local schools to launch mentorship opportunities, job fairs, and other activities that give young people better insight into law enforcement work. This program would open up a stronger local hiring pipeline for departments.

Finally, Recruit and Retain would direct the Government Accountability Office to study the causes and effects of the latest recruitment and retention challenges in the law enforcement industry. A study like this would provide more clarity on the public safety ramifications of this staffing crisis.

I look forward to the Recruit and Retain Act’s advancement in the Senate and the House, and I’m hopeful that my colleagues and I can come together in a bipartisan manner to get this bill passed.

In addition to Recruit and Retain, I am an original cosponsor of a couple of measures introduced by my colleague Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). The Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Act of 2023 would reauthorize the highly effective, bipartisan PSN program through fiscal year 2026. In Nebraska, PSN coordinates enforcement and prosecution partnerships among federal, state, and local law enforcement to bring violent offenders to justice. Additionally, Sen. Cornyn’s Back the Blue Act would protect police officers by creating new federal criminal penalties for attacking federal law enforcement officers. 

Another vital area to continue addressing is the mental health of police officers, who face daily stressors from the intensity of their jobs. I’m planning to reintroduce a bill soon that would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to create a publicly accessible online dashboard so that law enforcement groups and other organizations can easily search for federal funding opportunities supporting mental health. This bill could serve as a helpful tool for law enforcement agencies to support officers struggling with mental health challenges.

This National Police Week, I was proud to honor law enforcement personnel in Nebraska and beyond, who courageously risk their lives every day to keep us safe. But I’m not going to leave my appreciation for our selfless, hardworking police officers behind now that Police Week is over. I’ll keep backing the blue in the Senate as long as I have the privilege to serve as your senior senator.

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