WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today announced that the Committee advanced three bills, on a unanimous and bipartisan basis, that will help support law enforcement officers by providing resources they need to do their jobs safely and build trust within the communities they serve.
In 1962, President Kennedy signed a law authorizing the President to proclaim May 15 as “Peace Officers Memorial Day” and the week in which it falls as “Police Week.” This is an important week to honor the men and women of law enforcement who serve and protect our communities bravely and honorably and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
“It has often been a tradition of the Senate Judiciary Committee that during Police Week we try to mark up measures that are bipartisan in nature and consistent with our regard for those men and women who serve us in law enforcement,” Durbin said. “We know that the vast majority of police officers are good people doing their best in a difficult and often dangerous job. With our country in the midst of sometimes fraught discussions about how to best implement police reforms, it is important that we take time this week—on a bipartisan basis—to recognize and support those law enforcement officers who are serving us with dignity and integrity, and their families.”
The first bill is the Protecting America’s First Responders Act, which would improve death and disability benefits for first responders by ensuring severely disabled first responders are able to receive benefits from the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit fund as intended by Congress.
The second bill is the Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act, which is named for Department of Homeland Security Special Agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila, who were attacked by drug cartels in Mexico in February 2011. Special Agent Zapata died from his injuries. This bill would clarify Congress’ intent that federal officers and employees serving outside U.S. borders are protected by our federal criminal laws, and ensure justice is served for federal officers who are defending our country, wherever in the world they are.
The third bill is the COPS Counseling Act, which would ensure privacy protections for officers seeking assistance from peer counseling programs. These programs provide important mental health services to law enforcement and first responders, but may be underutilized due to confidentiality concerns. This bill protects confidentiality by prohibiting individuals who participate in peer counseling sessions from disclosing communications made during the sessions, with a few limited exceptions. This will help officers take care of their own mental health, so they can safely serve us all.