Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, Final Passage of S. 2840, the POLICE Act of 2016

This week is National Police Week, and many of us have paused to thank our Nation’s law enforcement officers for their important work.  But it is not enough for us to simply pay tribute to these men and women.  We must also provide them with the training and the resources they need to remain safe while they protect our communities. 

That is why I pushed for years to enact legislation to reauthorize the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, which President Obama signed into law on Monday.  I authored this legislation with Senator Graham because every single law enforcement officer deserves to be protected by a life-saving vest.  Since its inception in 1998, this program has provided more than 1.2 million vests to more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies.  The reauthorization signed into law this week ensures that hundreds of thousands more officers will be similarly protected.  I have personally met with officers who were saved by vests purchased through this program.  They will confirm that these vests are worth every penny.

Today, the Senate passed the Protecting Our Lives by Initiating COPS Expansion Act, or the POLICE Act.  This legislation will provide law enforcement officers with training to handle active shooter situations.  The bill is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of Chiefs of Police, National District Attorneys Association, Major County Sheriffs Association, and the Sergeants Benevolent Association.  I was proud to join Senator Cornyn as the lead Democratic sponsor of this legislation. 

So many officers have heroically responded to active shooter situations.  This week, the President bestowed upon several officers the Medal of Valor for their responses to active shooters.  The Medal recipients included three California officers who confronted a gunman during a rampage on a community college campus that left five people dead in 2013; a New York officer who arrested at a crowded hospital a gunman who already had killed another officer; and a New York sheriff’s deputy who confronted and subdued a gunman who had wounded others and posed a threat to students at a nearby school.

But we cannot rely on heroism alone.  Active shooter incidents have become all too common, occurring in shopping malls, schools, and the workplace – anywhere where people gather.  No state is immune, including Vermont. All of our Nation’s officers should receive training on how to handle such situations so that they can respond quickly and effectively to protect the public.  The POLICE Act will help make such training available, and I urge the House to quickly pass this legislation and the President to sign it into law.

However, the burden of protecting the public from active shooters should not fall solely on the shoulders of our law enforcement officers.  Congress must do more to prevent active shooter situations.  That means preventing criminals and those who seek to cause harm from acquiring firearms in the first place.  That is why the Senate should pass the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act that I sponsored with Senator Collins, which would provide law enforcement the tools they need to investigate and deter straw purchasers and gun traffickers.  Congress must not become so numb to tragedy after tragedy that we fail to fulfill our duty to legislate, even when the issue involves firearms.

Supporting our Nation’s law enforcement officers and reducing gun violence should not be partisan issues.  While we are making progress, much more remains to be done.  I stand ready to work with anyone – Republican or Democrat – on common sense ways to keep our law enforcement officers and communities safe.

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