Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, delivered the following opening remarks during the Committee markup of H.R. 5698, the “Protect and Serve Act.”
“Mr. Chairman, the “Protect and Serve Act,” while rooted in laudable goals, will not strengthen protections for law enforcement officers and it fails to make meaningful reforms that would improve police - community relations. Although I will not oppose the bill, I believe that its consideration today reflects a wasted opportunity.
“This legislation would create a new offense under title 18 of the U.S. Code for the crime of targeting law enforcement officers. Current law, however—at both the federal and state level—already makes this a crime. It is not clear why this bill is needed at all.
“No Member of this Committee questions the difficulty, danger and stress associated with being a police officer. A white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation reported that, last year, 129 police officers died in the line of duty – 46 from shootings – with an additional 140 reported officer suicides. And, since the start of 2018, at least 36 law enforcement officers across the United States have died while on duty -- with 24 of the deaths caused by gunfire. Our hearts go out to the families of those officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
“As a result of the risk inherent to policing, there is no profession more widely protected under federal and state law than working in law enforcement. All 50 states have laws that enhance penalties for crimes against peace officers, and in some instances, crimes against the broadly defined category of first responders.
“In fact, section 2 of the bill clearly acknowledges that states have primary jurisdiction for attacks on state and local police officers, which presents an open question for the sponsors of this bill as to whether the Department of Justice would ever exercise jurisdiction if this legislation were enacted.
“I would note that my state of New York has four separate criminal statutes addressing attacks on law enforcement officers. Moreover, federal laws already impose a life sentence or even the death penalty on persons convicted of killing state and local law enforcement officers or other employees assisting with federal investigations.
“Simply put, the legislation under consideration today does not improve upon this existing legal framework.
“But I want to be clear about the respect that we have for the difficult work undertaken by our law enforcement professionals. While attacks on law enforcement officials are completely unacceptable, the existing legal framework for prosecuting those crimes is more than adequate at both the state and federal level. If it were not, I would be an ardent supporter of this legislation.
“In addition, we should consider the adverse consequences of taking such a one-sided approach to the issue of police practices. Rather than advancing a bill that amounts to an empty gesture—on the eve of Police Week—the Committee should instead be focusing on real reform measures that will actually protect law enforcement officers, first responders, and their communities.
“Over the years, well-documented, unconstitutional policing practices in communities of color across the United States have eroded trust between these communities and the law enforcement officials sworn to protect them. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department currently has 19 consent agreements with troubled police departments nationwide. Dating back to the mid 1990's, every region of the country has suffered some kind of high profile incident.
“In 2017 alone, almost 1,000 people were killed by police according to the Washington Post. Another media outlet estimates that there were more than 1,100 police-related fatalities last year, with people of color representing more than 50 percent of those unarmed during fatal encounters with police.
“Yet, in the 2 years since the creation of the bipartisan Policing Strategies Working Group, this Committee has advanced no police reform legislation. Instead, we are asked to consider today H.R. 5698, a one-sided approach the presents the strong risk of creating a perception of bias against community-based policing concerns.
“The Committee’s interests would be better served by working to foster law enforcement reforms aimed at helping local jurisdictions meet their constitutional obligation of fair and unbiased policing. I hope that soon we will bring the Committee’s balanced work on law enforcement accountability out into the open, with hearings and the introduction of legislation. We should care equally about harms by and against police officers and their impact on local communities.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I yield back the balance of my time.”