FLOOR STATEMENT OF RANKING MEMBER NADLER FOR H.R. 5698, THE “PROTECT AND SERVE ACT”
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, delivered the following remarks on the House floor during the consideration of H.R. 5682, the “Protect and Serve Act.”
“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 Congress 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 and lays out very narrow circumstances where a federal nexus would exist. This presents an open question as to whether there would be any instances in which the Department of Justice would exercise jurisdiction under this legislation.
“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.
“Rather than advancing a bill that amounts to an empty gesture—during Police Week—the Congress should instead be focusing on real reform measures that will actually protect law enforcement officers and first responders, and their communities as well.
“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.
In fact, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department currently has 19 consent agreements with troubled police departments nationwide. And dating back to the mid 1990's, every region of the country has suffered some kind of high profile incident.
“Adding to community concerns are the increasingly well-documented incidents of unjustified deadly force against unarmed victims in police-civilian encounters. More than 50 percent of the unarmed victims in these fatal encounters with police were people of color.
“Though protecting officer safety is a paramount concern, the interests of communities across the nation would be equally well-served by working to foster law enforcement reforms aimed at helping local jurisdictions meet their constitutional obligation of fair and unbiased policing.
“As we have debated the Protect and Serve Act. I have been encouraged by the expressed commitment by Chairman Goodlatte and the bill’s sponsor, Representative Rutherford, to work with me on bringing the Judiciary 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 and I reserve the balance of my time.”
“As I stated at the outset of debate today, I will not oppose this legislation because it merely duplicates existing law and I am not interested in falling into the trap of opposing what amounts to a messaging bill brought forth during police week.
“But I want to be clear that I believe H.R. 5698 represents a wasted opportunity and appears tone deaf to the real struggles happening in communities across our nation.
“A number of civil rights organizations raise similar concerns, stating in a letter to Congress that this bill “is being contemplated at a time when our country is in the throes of a national policing crisis, with a never-ending stream of police shootings of unarmed African Americans captured on video. Creating a new, yet superfluous, crime for offenses committed against law enforcement is a particularly disconnected and non-responsive policy choice.”
“I hope this Congress will now get back to the difficult work of legislating meaningful solutions. I am encouraged that my Republican colleagues have made a commitment to pursue balanced law enforcement accountability reform, with hearings and the introduction of legislation. There is much work to be done.
“I yield back the balance of my time.”