02.26.08

Statement On The “School Safety And Law Enforcement Improvement Act”

Since my last statement on the need for prompt congressional action to address incidents involving threatening conduct and, too often, deadly acts of violence at our schools and college campuses nationwide,  the violent incidents have continued, with tragic results. 

In the week between February 8 and February 15, there were at least four incidents at schools and universities resulting in death or serious injury to victims of all ages.       

On February 8, a female student killed two other students, and then herself, inside a classroom on the campus of Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge.  Three days later, a student at Mitchell High School in Memphis, Tennessee was left in critical condition after a violent incident in the school’s cafeteria.  The day after that, a 15-year-old boy at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, California was critically wounded by a classmate.  He was later declared brain dead.   

Then, on February 14, tragedy struck at Northern Illinois University.  A former student opened fire in a geology class, killing five students and wounding 16, before killing himself.  As hundreds of mourners remembered one of the Northern Illinois University victims at a funeral service on February 19, more than 1,000 Virginia Tech students gathered in solidarity for a candlelight vigil in Blacksburg, Virginia.    

It has been over 10 months since the horrific incident at Virginia Tech resulted in the tragic deaths of 32 students and faculty members, and serious injuries to many other innocent victims.  During that time, we have seen a barrage of new incidents at our schools and college campuses nationwide. 

The Judiciary Committee reported out the School Safety and Law Enforcement Improvement Act of 2007, S. 2084, more than six months ago to address these incidents.  Regrettably, the Senate has failed to take up and pass that bill to improve school safety.  This comprehensive legislation should be considered and passed without further delay.

In originating the bill more than six months ago, the Judiciary Committee showed deference to Governor Tim Kaine and the task forces at work in Virginia, and sought to complement their work and recommendations.  Working with several Senators, including Senators Boxer, Reed, Specter, Feingold, Schumer, and Durbin, the Committee originated this bill and reported it at the start of the 2007 academic year.  My hope was that Congress would adopt these critical school safety improvements last fall.

The recent incidents at E.O. Green Junior High, Mitchell High School, Louisiana Technical College and Northern Illinois University are just a few of the tragic events that have claimed the lives or resulted in serious injuries to students in the past few months.  Since this bill was reported out of the Judiciary Committee, we have seen tragic deaths at Delaware State University and the University of Memphis, and grievous injuries sustained by students and teachers at SuccessTech Academy in Cleveland, Ohio.  We have also seen numerous lockdowns nationwide as a result of threatening conduct in our schools, including recent lockdowns at Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Kentucky and St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, New York.

The School Safety and Law Enforcement Improvement Act would address the problem of violence in our schools in several ways.  The bill authorizes federal assistance for programs to improve the safety and security of our schools and institutions of higher education, provides equitable benefits to law enforcement serving those institutions including bulletproof vests, and funds pilot programs to develop cutting-edge prevention and intervention programs for our schools.  The bill also clarifies and strengthens two existing statutes – the Terrorist Hoax Improvements Act and the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act – which are designed to improve public safety. 

Specifically, the bill would improve the safety and security of students both at the elementary and secondary school level and on college and university campuses.  The K-12 improvements are drawn from a bill that Senator Boxer introduced last April, and I want to thank Senator Boxer for her hard work on this issue.  The improvements include increased funding for much-needed infrastructure changes to improve security as well as the establishment of hotlines and tip-lines, which will enable students to report potentially dangerous situations to school administrators before they occur.

To address the new realities of campus safety in the wake of Virginia Tech and more recent college incidents, the bill also creates a matching grant program for campus safety and security to be administered out of the COPS Office of the Department of Justice.  The grant program would allow institutions of higher education to apply, for the first time, directly for federal funds to make school safety and security improvements.  The program is authorized to be appropriated at $50,000,000 for the next two fiscal years.  While this amounts to just three dollars per student each year, it will enable schools to more effectively respond to dangerous situations on campus.

The bill would also make sworn law enforcement officers who work for private institutions of higher education and rail carriers eligible for death and disability benefits, and for funds administered under the Byrne Grant program and the Bulletproof Vest Partnership grant program.  Providing this equitable treatment is in the best interest of our nation’s educators and students, and will serve to place the support of the Federal government behind the dedicated law enforcement officers who serve and protect private colleges and universities nationwide.  I commend Senator Jack Reed for his leadership in this area.

The bill helps law enforcement by making improvements to the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2003 (LEOSA).  These amendments to existing law will streamline the system by which qualified retired and active officers can be certified under LEOSA.  It serves us all when we permit qualified officers, with a demonstrated commitment to law enforcement and no adverse employment history, to protect themselves, their families, and their fellow citizens wherever those officers may be. 

The bill focuses on prevention as well, by incorporating the PRECAUTION Act at the request of Senators Feingold and Specter.  This provision authorizes grants to develop prevention and intervention programs for our schools.

Finally, the bill incorporates the Terrorist Hoax Improvements Act of 2007, at the request of Senator Kennedy.   

The Senate should move forward and act.  The Virginia Tech Review Panel – a body commissioned by Governor Kaine to study the Virginia Tech tragedy – has already issued its findings based on a four-month long investigation of the incident and its aftermath.  This bill would adopt a number of recommendations from the Review Panel aimed at improving school safety.  We must not miss this opportunity to implement these initiatives nationwide, and to take concrete steps to ensure the safety of our kids.  I hope the Senate will promptly move forward to invest in the safety of our students and better support law enforcement officers across the country by considering and passing the School Safety and Law Enforcement Improvement Act of 2007.

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Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693