Bipartisan House group seeks to bolster nation's police forces with COPS bill

As more and more local governments are laying off police officers to balance strung-out budgets, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced legislation Friday to reverse the trend.

Sponsored by Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertMajor GOP super PAC expands field offices to 31 districts With bills on the table, Congress must heed the call to fix our national parks 107 House Republicans express 'deep concern' about Trump tariffs MORE (R-Wash.), the legislation would provide $600 million annually to local law-enforcement programs, adding an estimated 19,000 new officers nationwide over the next six years.

Supporters say the benefits of preventing police layoffs are well worth the price tag, particularly as the U.S. takes steps to guard against potential terrorist attacks in the wake of this month's killing of Osama bin Laden.

"I can think of nothing more stupid to cut on a local level than the brave officers that [protect] us day in and day out," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), another sponsor of the bill, told reporters outside the Capitol Friday. "Congress has an obligation … to make sure that we have enough cops, enough law-enforcement people, to protect us."

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) – who, along with Reichert, co-chairs the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus – also argued that funding the nation's police forces shouldn't be considered solely a state or local issue.

Pascrell said that his hometown of Patterson, N.J., has already laid off 125 law enforcement officers – roughly a third of the entire force – to address budget troubles stemming from the recent recession.

"When we don't have a minimum force, we are putting other police officers in jeopardy," Pascrell warned, "and we're putting the public in jeopardy."

At issue is the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which provides federal funding to local law-enforcement programs to hire more officers. 

In February, Republicans proposed to cut $298 million from the program as part of their 2011 continuing resolution. An amendment to the CR to block that cut, sponsored by Weiner, passed the House with broad bipartisan support. Seventy Republicans joined 158 Democrats to restore the $298 million. Still, the COPS program is authorized only through fiscal year 2011, which ends Oct. 1.

The Democrats' bill would reauthorize the initiative, while boosting the funding considerably. Not only can localities use the funds to hire or rehire officers, but the legislation provides new flexibility allowing governments to purchase equipment and upgrade technologies.

The bill also encourages governments to add war veterans to their law-enforcement teams.

In the upper chamber, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) has introduced similar legislation, which has been endorsed by Democratic Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE (Calif.), Robert CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyRand's reversal advances Pompeo Vulnerable Senate Dems have big cash advantages Pompeo faces pivotal vote MORE (Pa.), Richard DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinPompeo faces pivotal vote To succeed in Syria, Democrats should not resist Trump policy Hannity, Kimmel, Farrow among Time's '100 Most Influential' MORE (Ill.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump’s CIA pick facing brutal confirmation fight This week: Senate barrels toward showdown over Pompeo Sunday Shows Preview: Emmanuel Macron talks ahead of state dinner MORE (Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Tech: Cambridge Analytica whistleblower meets House Dems | SEC fines Yahoo M over email breach | Senators unveil internet privacy bill Overnight Cybersecurity: Homeland Security official says Russia likely targeted more than 21 states | Senate approves Trump's NSA chief | Lawmakers unveil bipartisan internet privacy bill Senators introduce bipartisan internet privacy bill MORE (Minn.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCongress should build on the momentum from spending bill Overnight Tech: Zuckerberg grilled by lawmakers over data scandal | What we learned from marathon hearing | Facebook hit with class action lawsuit | Twitter endorses political ad disclosure bill | Uber buys bike share Overnight Cybersecurity: Zuckerberg faces grilling in marathon hearing | What we learned from Facebook chief | Dems press Ryan to help get Russia hacking records | Top Trump security adviser resigning MORE (Vt.), Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying world Senators fume over fight to change rules for Trump's nominees After Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp MORE (Nev.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: Pruitt proposes rule targeting 'secret science' | Dems probe Pruitt's security chief | FAA bill provisions could strip endangered species protections Dems say Pruitt security chief’s authorization for side job is invalid Overnight Energy: Dems raise new questions about Pruitt's security | EPA rules burning wood is carbon neutral | Fourth GOP lawmaker calls for Pruitt's ouster | Court blocks delay to car efficiency fines MORE (R.I.).

Weiner on Friday declined to suggest how sponsors would pay the cost of the reauthorization, noting that offsets are the purview of the appropriations committees. But Rep. Shiela Jackson Lee (D-Texas) wasn't as demure. She said the costs could be covered easily by ending the George W. Bush-era tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.

"I want to see this program continued," Lee said.

Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said cost shouldn't be the focus considering the importance of keeping law enforcement officers on the streets. 

"This isn't just another budget item," he said. "This is about the safety and unity and cooperation of citizens with their law-enforcement leaders."

Weiner echoed that message, suggesting that the nation's police officers should stand apart from the deep politicization of Washington.

"If there's one issue in this tough Congress that we can put aside partisanship on," he said, "it should be this one."