Legislators honored National Police Week with some good news for law enforcement: the passage of two federal bills that were subsequently signed into law by President Trump. Both the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act and the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017 demonstrate bipartisan support for our nation’s peace officers and military veterans, and represent major victories for public safety.
Passed on May 17 after being introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Will Hurd (R-Texas) and in the Senate by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act (S. 583) provides grant funds to state and local law enforcement agencies through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services for hiring and training veterans. The program aids veterans who struggle to find direction and face high unemployment rates after returning to civilian life, offering them an opportunity to continue their public service and find a rewarding job in law enforcement. At the same time, the measure helps departments with serious manpower shortfalls to find candidates equipped with valuable training, experience, skills and dedication to duty in order to keep our communities safe.
On the same day, Congress unanimously passed the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Improvement Act (S. 419), a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) with the goal of expediting survivor benefits for family members of officers killed in the line of duty. In 2015, a Senate Judiciary oversight hearing and a scathing DOJ Inspector General report revealed a severe lack of accountability, transparency and efficiency in the PSOB program, which had a backlog of more than 1,000 claims. Since then, law enforcement groups have been working with Senators Grassley and Gillibrand to develop legislation to address these problems. The Act expands public oversight of the program in a number of ways, including requiring the Justice Department to:
- Post weekly status updates for all pending claims on its website, plus biannual aggregate statistics
- Demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that an officer was negligent or engaged in misconduct at the time of his or her death or injury before denying a claim on those grounds
- Utilize all of its investigative authorities before rejecting claims based on lack of information
- Give substantial weight to the findings of fact of federal, state and local agencies as to the cause of an officer’s death or disability
- Establish remedies for claimants who age out of eligibility for education benefits because of the DOJ’s delays in processing their claims
These provisions apply not only to all claims filed in the future, but also to all those pending at the time of the law’s enactment. At the end of April, there were still a total of 897 active PSOB claims, which had been pending for an average of 719 days. The changes implemented by the new law represent an important step toward helping the families of fallen and disabled officers finally receive the compensation they need and deserve, in a timely and straightforward manner.
Both bills were signed into law by President Trump on June 2, in a ceremony attended by various law enforcement representatives. “We are behind you 100%,” the president told them.
“LAAPOA applauds our lawmakers and chief executive for taking action to support law enforcement,” says President Marshall McClain. “The American Law Enforcement Heroes Act recognizes that our veterans have demonstrated the courage and sacrifice that make them a natural fit for careers in law enforcement. Their military background prepares them especially well to respond to large-scale incidents like mass shootings and terror attacks, which unfortunately continue to threaten our public safety. Such events also remind us of the dangers that officers face as they protect their communities. During Police Week this year alone, we memorialized 234 officers who gave their lives in the line of duty. By improving the PSOB program that helps the grieving families of those brave heroes left behind, our political leaders honor the past, present and future law enforcement officers devoting their lives to serving others.”