Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following statement on the House floor in support of the Protect and Serve Act (H.R. 5698). This bill provides a significant deterrent for those seeking to attack police officers.
Chairman Goodlatte: On October 15, 1991, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was dedicated to honor federal, state and local law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of our nation and its people. The Memorial features two curving, 304-foot-long blue-gray marble walls. Carved on these walls are the names of more than 21,000 officers who have been killed in the line of duty throughout U.S. history, dating back to the first known death in 1791.
Every spring, law enforcement officers from around the country gather in Washington D.C. for Peace Officers Memorial Day. For a week, these men and women attend events to celebrate and honor those law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. And each year, there is a memorial service in which the names of fallen officers are added to the long, curving marble walls of the Memorial. Unfortunately, the list of names keeps growing and shows no signs of slowing down.
That is why today I’m pleased we are considering the Protect and Serve Act. This bill is designed to ensure those who seek to harm police officers face swift and certain justice. In recent years, the brave and dedicated men and women in blue who serve our communities are facing increased levels of hostility and violence. This has given rise to an increase in ambush-style attacks on police officers. In 2016 alone, 64 police officers were shot and killed in the line of duty, 21 of whom were killed in ambush-style attacks.
According to media reports, in the first 17 weeks of this year, 21 law enforcement officers across the U.S. have been shot and killed in the line of duty. That averages out to more than one death every week. Only a few weeks ago, on April 19, 2018, two sheriffs’ deputies were gunned down and killed, in a suspected ambush, while they were eating at a restaurant in Gainesville, Florida.
To address this threat to the brave police who put their lives on the line each day across our country, the Protect and Serve Act allows for federal prosecution of criminals who knowingly assault law enforcement officers and cause serious bodily harm or attempt to do so. This bill applies to both federal law enforcement officers and state and local officers where there is a nexus to interstate commerce.
Importantly, Mr. Speaker, this legislation recognizes that, most often, these crimes are wholly within the jurisdiction of a State to prosecute. Therefore, in addition to other requirements in the bill to ensure a federal connection, H.R. 5698 states specifically that prosecution under this new statute may only be pursued if the Attorney General certifies that (1) the State does not have jurisdiction; (2) the State has requested that the federal Government assume jurisdiction; (3) the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the federal interest in protecting the public safety; or (4) a prosecution by the United States is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice.
This is a critical part of the bill. It will ensure that the federal power is reserved for the most egregious cases.
At the dedication of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, President George H.W. Bush aptly stated: “Carved on these walls is the story of America, of a continuing quest to preserve both democracy and decency, and to protect a national treasure that we call the American dream.” Today we continue to recognize this special role police officers play in our society. The Protect and Serve Act sends a uniform message that our country will not tolerate attacks on police, which purposefully attempt to undermine the State, sow chaos in our communities, and wreck the lives of many of our finest citizens and their families. I urge my colleagues to send a uniform message today by addressing the grave crisis threatening both our communities and the brave men and women in blue who put their lives on the line each day.
I’d like to thank my Judiciary Committee colleagues, especially career law enforcement officers, Sheriff Rutherford and Chief Demings, for sponsoring this bill. I also want to thank Congressman Ken Buck for his work to punish criminals who target law enforcement officers. Finally, I am grateful to the police organizations who have worked with us so diligently on this and many other bills, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, the Major County Sheriffs of America, the National Sheriffs Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and the Sergeants Benevolent Association, among many others. We thank you, and salute all of you for your steadfast commitment and dedicated service.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.