Floor Statement Introducing the Equity in Law Enforcement Act
MR. REED: Mr. President, on April 16, 2007, our nation faced a terrible tragedy, the deadliest shooting in the history of our nation. I want to express my sympathy to the victims of this senseless violence, one of whom was Daniel O'Neil, a 22-year-old Virginia Tech graduate student from Lincoln, RI.
The unfortunate truth is that this unspeakable event could have happened on any campus, anywhere. It highlighted how vulnerable our Nation's university and college campuses can be to this type of attack.
Today, I am reintroducing the Equity in Law Enforcement Act, to extend Federal benefits to law enforcement officers who serve private institutions of higher education and rail carriers, including line-of-duty death benefits under the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program, and eligibility for bulletproof vest partnership grants through the Department of Justice. This legislation would give sworn, licensed, or certified police officers serving private institutions of higher education and rail carriers the same Federal benefits that apply to law enforcement officers serving units of State and local government.
The Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) Act of 1976 was enacted to aid in the recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers and firefighters by providing a one-time financial benefit to the eligible survivors of public safety officers whose deaths are the direct result of traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty. Specifically, this law addresses concerns that the hazards inherent in law enforcement and fire suppression, and the low level of state and local death benefits, might discourage qualified individuals from seeking careers in these fields.
The same risks also apply to police officers protecting our private universities and railways. Unfortunately, the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Act omitted coverage to sworn officers who are privately employed, even though they enforce the law and have arrest powers within their jurisdiction. These brave officers, who protect our college and university campuses and railways every day and receive the same training as their government counterparts, are thus excluded from receiving the same line-of-duty federal death benefits as law enforcement officers serving units of State and local governments.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 25 college or university officers have been killed in the line of duty since September 20, 1963. The names of these 25 officers, including Officer Joseph Francis Doyle, who was killed in the line of duty at Brown University in 1988, as well as 59 railway officers who have been killed in the line-of-duty are inscribed on the Memorial.
Since September 2004, three sworn campus police officers have been killed in the line-of-duty. Two of these officers were from public universities: the University of Florida and the University of Mississippi, whose sworn officers are covered by the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Act. The third, however, was Butler University Police Department Officer James L. Davis, Jr., who was shot and killed in the line of duty on September 24, 2004, while responding to a campus disturbance. Because Butler University is a private university, Officer Davis was not eligible for the same Federal benefits as his counterparts at the University of Florida or the University of Mississippi.
I am pleased that Senators Leahy and Cornyn have joined me in introducing this legislation to help remedy this discrepancy in death benefit payments for law enforcement officers and ensure that these public safety officers have access to the protective equipment they need.
The bill would apply only to sworn peace officers who receive State certification or licensing, and is supported by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, IACP, and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, IACLEA. Indeed, the benefits of this legislation far outweigh the costs. A 2004 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found that there would be no significant budget impact by its enactment.
I urge my colleagues to join me, and Senators Leahy and Cornyn, in cosponsoring and passing the Equity in Law Enforcement Act, to ensure that the brave officers that serve and protect our private college and university campuses and railways receive the benefits that they deserve.