States are gambling with law enforcement safety

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On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order directing the Department of Justice to implement a plan to “stop crime and crimes of violence against law enforcement officers.” 

The order instructs the department to “pursue appropriate legislation…that will define new Federal crimes, and increase penalties for existing federal crimes, in order to prevent violence against federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.” That recommended legislation could include “defining new crimes of violence and establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes of violence.”

The order also directs a thorough evaluation of all grant funding programs currently administered by the Justice Department. About the order, President Trump said “It’s a shame what’s been happening to our great — truly great — law enforcement officers,” the president said at the signing. “That’s going to stop as of today.”

{mosads}Exactly one week before, a 19-hour standoff at a Delaware prison ended with the death of Sgt. Steven Floyd, a 16-year veteran of the Delaware Corrections department, who was pronounced dead at 5:29 a.m., minutes before authorities used a backhoe to break through a wall and secure the scene at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, officials said.


While all law enforcement line-of-duty deaths are tragedies requiring swift legal response, Floyd’s death draws attention to a dangerous discrepancy that directly conflicts with the White House’s efforts to protect those who protect us.

The dangers of working in law enforcement, both in policing as well as corrections, have been nationally recognized and codified with the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004, a federal law enacted by President George W. Bush that allows “qualified law enforcement/corrections officers” and “qualified retired law enforcement/corrections officers” to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the United States, regardless of state or local laws, with certain exceptions.

Some states, however, choose to get around this law by classifying the members of corrections and certain law enforcement agencies outside the scope of the act. This creates a discrepancy as to what a corrections officer, peace officer, or law enforcement officer is from one jurisdiction to another; which puts officers and those they serve at significant risk.

For example, both state and municipal Corrections Officers in New York and New Jersey are classified as peace officers (law enforcement) in their respective state codes, and have standardized training necessary to comply with LEOSA. Meanwhile, right across the borders of Pennsylvania and Delaware, Corrections Officers are still considered “guards” in the eyes of state law; as they are in many southern states.

Not only does this hinder the professionalism and retention of corrections officers, but restricts men and women who have exactly the same jobs as their counterparts across the Delaware River from the same protections afforded to them under LEOSA, potentially endangering their lives. LEOSA states that any sworn law enforcement officer (with the authority to make arrests) in active service, and any ‘retired’ officer serving a total of ten years’ service as sworn law enforcement has the right to interstate firearms carry.

Instead of embracing this law, numerous agencies have created elaborate ways to circumvent it. For example, a myriad of agencies refuse to issue “retired” identification cards to members who leave after the ten year requirement, giving those members no way to prove they are LEOSA eligible.

Even more of an outrage is that numerous police and corrections agencies will not arm or train their officers with respect to their titles. In New York, numerous police agencies within the city are unarmed despite their state authority as peace officers to make arrests. This includes the NYC Hospital Police, who polices a city hospital system in where violent crime victims are taken, drug-seeking behavior is manifested; City University Public Safety and NYPD School Safety officers; among many others. Surely, the murder of Hospital Police Officer James Low in 1999, the presence of gangs in schools and threat of active shooter incidents demonstrate the need for uniformed, sworn law enforcement officers to be armed and operated professionally.

Unfortunately many local political leaders ignore best practices in public safety. This extends beyond New York, where even the Philadelphia School Police; in one of the most violent public school systems in America, are unarmed and have no arrest authority.

Local powers that be continually reject request from officers’ unions to train and equip them properly. For some jurisdictions, this is merely a budget issue, where agencies don’t want to increase the salaries, training and equipment funding to make these officers safe. Some, especially in educational environments, however highlight a disturbing politicization in where leaders have expressed that arming school police results in a ludicrous “pathway to corrections” because the mere presence of firearms on campus, even on the hip of a uniformed law enforcement officer, creates the “feeling that kids are in jail”. Meanwhile, officers and kids are at risk from armed criminals because they are not equipped to intervene in an attack.

If states would simply invest in professionalism and training; they can move toward standardization. In 1994, six years before being appointed Police Commissioner, NYPD Detective Bernard Kerik was appointed by Mayor Rudy Giuliani to the New York City Department of Correction as the director of Investigations and by 1998 he was appointed as the Commissioner of the department.

As Corrections Commissioner, Kerik was responsible for the creation of the Total Efficiency Accountability Management System, the development of a nationally-recognized gang intelligence unit and database, and a reduction of inmate violence by a whopping 93 percent from 1995 to 1999.

Similarly, overtime spending decreased 45 percent from 1995 to 1999 and the uniform sick rate dropped for the same period by 25 percent; all during a period in NYC history when the inmate population rose by 25 percent. What Kerik showed the national corrections and law enforcement communities was that when you train, equip and manage corrections officers like professional law enforcement officers; facilities will operate accordingly saving both the lives of officers and inmates alike.

For an off-duty Pennsylvania Corrections Officer to be arrested in front of his family for carrying a weapon across the bridge in New Jersey because Pennsylvania classifies corrections officers differently than New Jersey does is legally unfair and puts officers at risk. For a school police officer in Philadelphia, PA to be completely unequipped and without authority while school police officers in rural Clarksdale, Mississippi are sworn and armed makes no sense; as the value of our children’s lives is no more valuable in Mississippi as it is in Pennsylvania or New York.

While our President and federal lawmakers have been diligent in their efforts to protect law enforcement; they need to legislate a standard for the authority and use of force capabilities of what a law enforcement officer is. If states like Delaware were to follow the best practices of New York and professionalize their corrections department; then they can honor the life of Sgt. Floyd by protecting the safety of their officers and preventing future loss of life.

A. Benjamin Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Pierce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a governor on the executive board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. His writing has appeared in the Washington Times. Follow him on Twitter @PublicSafetySME

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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