July 26, 2022

Grassley Statement at Hearing on Law Enforcement Safety

Prepared Statement by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Hearing on “Law Enforcement Officer Safety: Protecting Those Who Serve and Protect”
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
 
Thank you, Chairman Durbin, for holding this important hearing. I requested the hearing, and I appreciate it.
 
Attacks on police officers are rising across the country. We see news stories on a regular basis about ambush attacks and murders of law enforcement in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Even my home state of Iowa has not escaped this violence.
 
Nationwide, 73 officers were intentionally killed last year, the highest number since the 9/11 attacks. That’s a 59 percent increase from the previous year. 133 officers were shot in ambush style attacks, an increase of 123 percent over the previous year.
 
The most recent data shows that violent crime is rising across the country, but violence against police officers is up even higher. This is a unique and critical problem.
 
I’d like to recognize one of my guests here today. Officer Zach Andersen was a deputy in Grundy County last year when Sergeant Jim Smith of the Iowa State Patrol was murdered in an ambush attack. He was with Sergeant Smith when the murder happened. I previously spoke in honor of Sergeant Smith’s memory.
 
It breaks my heart to hear stories like this come out of Iowa, but there’re sadly many such stories around the country.
 
Every death of an officer killed in the line of duty is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for the officer who sacrificed his or her life. It’s a tragedy for the family and friends left behind. It’s a tragedy for the community that lost a public servant. And it’s a tragedy for all of us who rely on these brave men and women to keep us safe.
 
There’s another disturbing trend that goes hand in hand with the rise in attacks on police. We see more criminals resisting or fleeing arrest, more disrespect and demonizing of law enforcement and a general atmosphere of hostility towards the people in uniform who put their lives on the line to protect us.
 
This is a growing crisis, and there’s much that Congress needs to do to help address it.
 
One of the challenges is a lack of data. While the government collects basic data on attacks against police that result in serious injury or death, we don’t have much data on the contributing factors. We also don’t have good data on attacks against police that don’t result in death and serious injury.
 
For this reason, I introduced the Improving Law Enforcement Officer Safety and Wellness Through Data Act. This bill will help expand our understanding of these attacks to better identify motives, trends and any coordinated efforts to target those officers who put on the badge to keep our communities safe.

I worked with police groups including Major County Sheriffs of America and the National Association of Police Organizations to identify gaps in reporting. Senators Luján, Tillis, Hassan, and Cassidy are original cosponsors of this bipartisan bill.
 
There are several bills proposed by members of this Committee that would make it a federal crime to attack law enforcement, and that would enhance penalties for doing so. Senators Cornyn, Tillis and Cotton have sponsored these bills.
 
A main cause of this violence against police is the demonization and disrespect shown to the profession of law enforcement throughout the country. When you allow hatred of a group to spread, people find it easy to justify violent attacks against them.
 
Kathy Smith, the wife of the late Sergeant Smith, sent us a letter that I’d like to introduce into the record. She tells us about what a wonderful and self-sacrificing man he was, but also that over the past six to eight years, he told her that officers have been treated with more hostility.

She writes that during the riots, “My husband stood with his tactical team protecting the state capital in Iowa and had frozen water bottles and rocks thrown at them. Protesters spit and insulted them for hours at a time.”
 
I held a roundtable with Iowa law enforcement a couple of months ago, and one theme that I heard constantly is officer recruitment and retention. There aren’t enough police officers to go around. There are not enough young people joining the profession. Most new hires they’re seeing come from other law enforcement offices.
 
The question that comes up is how we can ask young people to join a profession if we do not take care of them. How can we ask them to protect us if we don’t protect them? And if we don’t have enough officers, we can only expect to see other violent crimes get worse and worse.

Kathy Smith’s message to us here today is this, “You can allow culture’s diminishing respect and police’s lack of protection to continue down this dark path, permitting more families to face the same shattered fate as ours… or you can do something about it. You can listen to the problems we have, develop a plan to fix them, and save the lives of our officers.”
 
I agree with her, and I hope this hearing will help to examine all the aspects of this crisis for police and how we can help protect them.
 
Before I close, I would also like to introduce a letter from the National Association of Police Organizations, and also a statement from the Fraternal Order of Police, which states that anti-police rhetoric – amplified by social media platforms – leads to brazen acts of violence against law enforcement.

Thank you to our witnesses for appearing today. We look forward to hearing from you.