WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown joined Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl and Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees on 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. Yesterday, 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.”
Brown’s bills 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 yesterday. 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 yesterday. 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.
Today, 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 Chief 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.
Wednesday, during National Police Week, U.S. Senator Rob Portman delivered remarks on the Senate floor to honor Ohio’s fallen police officers. Portman, who has introduced the Back the Blue Act to increase the penalties for criminals who intentionally target law enforcement officers and provide new tools for officers to protect themselves, discussed the recent tragedy in Kirkersville that took the life of Police Chief Steven Eric Disario and his appreciation for every officer who risks it all in order to protect our communities. Senator Portman also read the names of Ohio police officers who died in the line of duty in 2016.
Senator Rob Portman
A transcript of the speech can be found below:
“I rise today during Police Week to pay tribute to our police officers around the country; the men and women in blue who every day serve us in Ohio and in every state represented in this chamber. In Ohio this is a particularly difficult week. Here we are in Police Week and we are once again mourning the loss of a police officer. This happened just last Friday. Last Friday a gunman took two people hostage in the woods behind a nursing home in Kirkersville, Ohio, it’s a small town about 25 miles east of Columbus. The first one to arrive on the scene was the police chief of this small town. His name was Steven Disario. Chief Disario confronted the assailant. He was ambushed by this assailant. He was shot. He was killed. This gunman then went inside the nursing facility and murdered two staff members: a registered nurse Marlina Medrano and a nurse’s aide named Cindy Krantz. Then he took his own life.
“By the way, Police Chief Steven Disario was 36 years old and had just become the police chief in Kirkersville a month ago. The women who were slain were Marlina Medrano, who had a son, and Cindy Krantz, who had five kids, including a 10-year-old son. Those kids had to spend Mother’s Day preparing for the burial of their moms.
“On Monday I went to Kirkersville and saw the memorial there for the officer. I also had an opportunity to meet with some of the officers who were from neighboring communities. There was just one police officer in Kirkersville, just the chief, and I was able to express to them the sympathy and the gratitude of people from throughout Ohio. I brought a flag that had been flown over the United States Capitol here in honor of Chief Disario and that flag will go to the family as a very small token of appreciation and gratitude of all of us for the service of their father and their husband.
“Chief Disario had six kids, and his widow Aryn is currently pregnant with their seventh child, a child who is never going to know his or her dad. What this child will know is that he died a hero. He died a hero risking his life to protect innocent people. And that’s what police officers do every single day. They keep us safe, and they take dangerous criminals and weapons and drugs off our streets, they enforce the law. Even their very presence helps to deter crime and keep our communities safer. But they do it all at great risk, at great risk to themselves and in great sacrifice to their families.
“A little more than a year ago I did a ride-along in Columbus with an officer named Greg Meyer. He’s one of these brave Columbus police officers who goes out every day to help keep the community safe. We were focused on a couple of issues that night in Columbus. One is the drug trade and particularly the opioid crisis we face in Ohio, and he was able to show me where much of this activity occurs, and we were able to see with our eyes some of the people who were trafficking drugs, dispersing, and what goes on in our communities. We were also talking about human trafficking and his work in that area, and we were able to go to some particular places where there’s been trafficking in the past where the police officers have broken up trafficking rings and where girls and women are made to become dependent on heroin and then the traffickers have them often in a hotel for a week until they move on to another one and traffic, sell human beings, usually online, usually through the iPhone. And, again, this police officer was able to tell me about what he has done and what his force has done to help protect these girls and women and help to get them out of that situation. This was just a few hours for me, and I always enjoy doing these ride-alongs, but this is his life, and their lives. Every day out there doing their best to try to protect us and make our communities safer.
“The day before this tragedy in Kirkersville occurred, we had a lot of police officers here in town because on Thursday and Friday and over the weekend police officers were coming in for Police Week and Police Memorial Day, which was on Monday, so I got a chance to meet with a bunch of these officers and thank them for their service. We talked about the fact that the job is dangerous, and increasingly dangerous. And unfortunately the numbers show that. And little did we know that the day after we were talking, there would be this tragedy in Ohio. We talked about the fact that some of their families have had sleepless nights because they don’t know whether their husband or their wife or their son or daughter is going to be coming home.
“In our nation’s history, more than 21,000 police officers have died in the line of duty. Think about that. 21,000. This year we’ve already had 42, this year in 2017. In 2016 we lost 143, about one officer every three days. Again, last year, five of those fallen officers were from Ohio. Aaron Christian, a patrolman with the Chesapeake Police Department, Thomas Cottrell, a patrolman with the Danville Police Department, Sean Johnson of the Hilliard, Ohio Division of Police, Steven Smith of the Columbus Division of Police, and Kenneth Velez, an Ohio State Trooper. I had the opportunity to meet with some of the families of these fallen officers to express our appreciation, to express our respect for them and the sacrifices that they bear.
“It takes courage to wear the badge, and those officers wore the badge day in and day out. They knew what they were getting in to and yet they wore that badge. They died wearing that badge. Although these heroic men were taken from us, their examples can never be taken away and won’t be. Ohioans are going to remember them as models of bravery and service, examples of fellow citizens who on behalf of all of us who were in the habit of walking into danger rather than running away from it. We’ve got an opportunity in this body to do something that will make a difference for our police officers, by supporting Police Week. There is a resolution that the House and Senate are working on. I urge all of my colleagues to support it. I’m sure they will.
“I think we need to show our men and women in blue on the front lines that we do appreciate them. There’s also legislation that can be supported. Most recently I introduced legislation with the Majority Whip called the Back the Blue Act. It’s very simple. It says if you target law enforcement officers, you’re going to have to pay a very high price. And that’s appropriate. We think the Back the Blue Act, by increasing penalties on those who would attempt to harm or kill a police officer, will make a difference because it will send a strong message and help deter some of these crimes. Ultimately, I think that will make our heroes in blue safer and help save lives.
“So again, I urge my colleagues to join me. In the wake of the tragedy in central Ohio, I know the people of Ohio are looking for Congress to stand tall and to stand with our police officers, thanking them for what they do to protect us every day. Let’s support this Police Week resolution, let’s support the Back the Blue Act, let’s do everything we can to ensure our police officers know we’re with them, we’re on their side, as they do their job every day to protect us.”