For the sake of police, don’t back the Back the Blue Act

Greg Nash

Unfortunately, I know the pain of losing a close comrade to street violence as well as anyone. During my 34-year police career in Maryland, I lost my close friend, Corporal Ed Toatley, and numerous other friends who wore the blue. Today, as Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, I remain committed to improving safety for my fellow police officers. For that reason, I oppose the “Back the Blue Act” introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas).

The Back the Blue Act would make any assault on an officer a federal crime with a mandatory minimum sentence. But here’s the thing: assaulting a police officer is already a crime in every state and already carries strict penalties set by local legislatures. My colleagues and I know that legislation intended to increase safety can in fact have the opposite result for officers on the street. Back the Blue would not deter individuals from assaulting police just by making a federal case out of these attacks. Instead, the bill would make us less safe and less effective by worsening what is already the greatest threat to policing today: the downward spiral of police-community relations.

{mosads}Any time I made a stop in a new or high-crime neighborhood, I had to be on guard, knowing that it could quickly escalate to an assault on me.

Not because some individual didn’t fear the consequences of assaulting us, but because in the heat of the moment, all that person’s fear, hostility, and anger toward the police could explode into one terrible decision.

Arbitrary mandatory sentences don’t deter these emotional reactions. What kept me safe was not any particular law but rather the trust, respect, and relationships that my fellow officers and I were able to build in the community. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned bill has already deepened an us-versus-them mentality across the country in high-crime minority communities, precisely where police need community support the most.

Back the Blue is a divisive bill that would decrease public safety by making police less effective. The more these communities see police as untrustworthy outsiders with special status, the harder it is to find witnesses to cooperate with police investigations. Officers already struggle to solve crimes because many community members refuse to speak to the police out of distrust or fear of retaliation. There is no question that Back the Blue would further reduce this cooperation, leaving dangerous criminals on the loose in communities too afraid to report them.

Back the Blue would divert federal resources from stopping the most complex and serious crimes. Federal prosecutors take on international child trafficking and money laundering rings, corrupt public officials, and other cases that are too complex, challenging, far-reaching, or sensitive for state and local prosecutors. While assault on an officer is a serious crime, it is a crime that can be easily handled by state and local prosecutors working with existing state laws. We should not remove federal prosecutors from high-level cases to duplicate the work of these local experts. It is insulting to state and local law enforcement, and it diverts federal prosecutors from public safety threats that only they can tackle.

Finally, our Founding Fathers saw the wisdom of letting states police, prosecute, and decide their own sentences for local crimes. Back the Blue would take away local authority by requiring the use of new mandatory minimum sentences created by politicians in Washington. It would replace case-by-case decisions made by local judges, reflecting the community’s values, with one-size-fits-all sentences. In order to preserve the power and discretion of our local judges, we must oppose Back the Blue.

My colleagues and I appreciate support of police officers and public safety, but we are safer if Congress rejects this counterproductive bill.

Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.) is a 34-year veteran of the Baltimore Police and Maryland State Police Departments. He’s the executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police, judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement professionals who use their expertise to advance drug policy and criminal justice solutions that improve public safety. 
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.
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