Honoring the sacrifices made by law enforcement
By Thom Tillis
Last month, many law enforcement officers and their families made their annual visit to the nation’s capital to commemorate National Police Week. The events included a somber and touching ceremony held to honor the 394 names that were inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which included the 143 officers who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2016. Two of these names were North Carolina’s finest: John Thomas Isenhour, a Forsyth County deputy sheriff, and Tim Brackeen, a Shelby Police Department K-9 officer.
Deputy Isenhour and Officer Brackeen both personified the honor, integrity and bravery of North Carolina law enforcement. They were the kinds of public servants who could instantly erase the doubts of anyone who would ever question the character or motivations of the men and women in blue.
No one should ever forget that police officers, just like every other American, kiss their loved ones good-bye before going to work each day. But the big difference is, unlike the vast majority of us, there’s no guarantee officers will return safely to their families when their shifts are over. That was readily apparent Wednesday, once again, as two Capitol Police officers were injured protecting the congressmen who were fired upon.
Our police officers make these sacrifices because they have accepted the awesome responsibility of serving and protecting the public. They are serving a calling that requires them to always put the safety of others ahead of their own well-being, and tragically they sometimes pay the ultimate price. In return, our nation has an obligation to ensure our law enforcement officials have the tools, resources and support to do their jobs effectively and stay as safe as possible. In areas where that support is lacking, it is the responsibility of elected officials to step up and either revisit existing laws or create new ones to help protect the very men and women who protect us.
While Republicans and Democrats may not be able to agree on much these days, one notable area of bipartisan cooperation this year has been the advancement of legislation that supports law enforcement. The president recently signed two bills that I co-sponsored into law that were approved overwhelmingly by Congress: a bill that encourages state and local law enforcement to hire veterans and another that supports the families of fallen police officers by addressing the backlog to obtain survivor benefits.
There is another bipartisan bill quickly moving its way through Congress that supports the mental health and well-being of officers, directing the Department of Justice to consult with the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs on best mental-health practices that law enforcement agencies could implement. The legislation recently passed the Senate unanimously and should become law soon. Additionally, I recently joined several of my colleagues to introduce the Back the Blue Act and the Probation Officer Protection Act.
The Back the Blue Act is a direct response to the violent targeting of law enforcement officers. It would do a number of things, including increasing penalties for any violent criminal who targets law enforcement officers, and empowering the Department of Justice to provide grant funding to promote trust and improve relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
The Probation Officer Protection Act would improve the ability for probation officers to keep themselves safe by allowing them to arrest hostile third parties who obstruct or prevent them from performing their official duties.
The legislation moving through Congress demonstrates a commitment to law enforcement, but there is much more work to be done. Strengthening police-community relations, protecting the safety of police officers and ensuring police have quality training must be among Congress’ top priorities for the remainder of 2017 and beyond. I look forward to continuing working with leaders in both North Carolina and Washington to push for policies that will better protect our communities and recognize the great sacrifices made by law enforcement.
Thom Tillis is North Carolina’s junior senator.