You can’t cut or defund your way to safer communities and better police departments

| 15 Feb 2022 | 01:22

Editor’s note: U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer delivered the following statement during his visit at the Newton Police Department on Monday. For more information please turn to page 10.

It’s an honor to be here in Newton with so many of our heroic first responders.

I want to start by reiterating my deep and unwavering support for all that you do. Every day, you wake up, put on a bulletproof vest, kiss your husbands, wives, and children goodbye, and then put your lives on the line all day to look out for us.

For that reason, and so much more, that’s why we must always get the backs of our first responders, and all those who serve our nation, including our veterans and active duty servicemembers. I am so grateful for your service and sacrifice — and for all of the unsung heroes who save lives and protect us, without great fanfare, and often at great risk.

I’m here today to highlight new bipartisan legislation that will make critical investments in our law enforcement — to protect our officers, our families, and our communities — and to shine a light how we can do more to help our departments, like right here in Newton.

Here at the Newton Police Department, you are a great example of a department constantly going above and beyond for your community. Not only do you work tirelessly to protect your community, but you also have taken on key community initiatives to break down barriers and create a safer, more connected community.

When able, the Newton Police Department holds “Coffee with a Cop.” — where residents are invited for open discussions to build better connections. They’re also regulars at Newton’s street fairs, and they take part in Project Medicine Drop and Sussex County C.L.E.A.R., to help members of the community dispose of medications and break addictions anonymously.

These critical initiatives proactively make this community even safer, and they are great examples of the type of work that the department can expand if we find ways to boost investment to our local police departments.

That’s why I’m working across the aisle with my colleagues in Congress to push my new bipartisan Invest to Protect Act forward. This is new legislation I’ve authored to invest in local police departments like the Newton Police Department, to help keep their community and their officers safe.

Over the last two years, in New Jersey alone, we have lost twenty officers in the line of duty – and more than 886 nationally.

As New York City’s new Mayor, Eric Adams, a former Police Captain, recently said, “I don’t subscribe to the belief of some that we can only have justice and not public safety. We can have them both.”

I think that’s exactly right — we can and we will have both, thanks, in part, to the actions we are highlighting today that will help ensure a safer, more just community.

Now, I think we’d all agree that no profession is perfect. There are always a few bad actors. We’ve got some of those in Washington. And, believe me, like you, I’m not proud to be associated with them — and I’d like them out. But, what I’ve learned is that you don’t paint everyone with the same brush, especially those who do what you do with such bravery and selflessness every day.

I’ve also realized that if you want to make something better, and there’s always room for improvement, whether that’s a road or a school, you don’t get there by cutting or defunding. You need to make smart, targeted investments. You must invest, not defund.

Cutting to the bone only weakens any profession; it pushes good people out, it diminishes the overall quality, and fuels a race to the bottom. That’s especially true in law enforcement. The only way to make a department better is to invest wisely, in training and tools, in recruiting and retaining the best talent, and ensuring they can be involved in the community. That’s how you keep families safe. In short, when it comes to law enforcement, you need to invest to protect.

We wouldn’t send our bravest into a burning building without an air tank, ladder, and a hose — and the training on how to use them. Why wouldn’t we do the same for our law enforcement? As I mentioned, my new bipartisan legislation — the Invest to Protect Act, which I wrote with Republican Congressman and former Sheriff John Rutherford, will make critical investments in our departments and ensure that our police officers in smaller towns across Northern New Jersey and America, like Newton, have the resources and training they need to keep themselves and communities safe.

This legislation was developed through many conversations with our communities and local law enforcement and is endorsed by key law enforcement organizations and unions including the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), National Sheriff’s Association, National Troopers Coalition (NTC), New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association, New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association, and National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).

In my discussions across the aisle in Congress — about our law enforcement — a key item that’s brought up is that our smaller towns and departments, in particular, don’t get the resources they need. And those smaller departments make up the majority of those here in Northern New Jersey. In fact, 95% of U.S. police departments have under 200 sworn officers.

Here in the Fifth District, for example, I represent 79 towns. The officers in these departments, like the one right here in Newton, don’t have large budgets and staff, so they are constantly having to work overtime to protect their residents. As a result, our local departments are stretched thin, and the pandemic has been even tougher on our first responders. Things like cloud storage for body cameras and the necessary training and support for officers puts a huge strain on their budgets and it costs them a fortune in overtime — if they can even find the time.

So, what ends up happening? More stress and more mental health issues and turnover, especially now when police officers are being attacked all the time, wherever they go. We need the best on the job — that’s the only way to prevent future problems.

First, my bipartisan bill will invest in officer safety, de-escalation, and domestic violence response training, and will offset overtime pay for officers who are training.

That means officers can receive critical training that will make them more effective at their jobs, without putting a strain on department budgets or reducing the number of officers on duty while another is at training.

It also invests in domestic violence response training — empowering officers with new tools and tactics to connect victims to community resources, legal support, and safety. Domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous and lethal for law enforcement. Every year, police officers all across the country are tragically killed on domestic violence calls. This bill will help stop that.

Second, the Invest to Protect Act will allocate resources for body worn cameras, while also providing much-needed funding for data storage and data security.

Here in Newton officers already have access to body cameras, but they’re looking to upgrade them, and it can be a pricey project to take on. Additionally, the cloud-based storage needed to make them effective can be prohibitively expensive, forcing departments to choose between body cameras and other resources.

Body worn cameras are critical. There is strong evidence that they reduce use of force, helping to make everyone safer.

Third, the Invest to Protect Act will provide grants for small departments to recruit new officers – helping expand departments and bring in new, good officers. It will also provide retention bonuses to help departments keep their existing officers.

No one hates a bad cop more than a good cop – and this bill will help recruit and retain the good cops.

Our departments are seeing record rates of retirements. As one officer here in New Jersey told us, when you have high turnover, “it does major long term damage.”because of all the institutional knowledge you lose. This bill addresses this issue head on and will help our departments retain good officers, which will lead to stronger, safer communities.Finally, the Invest to Protect Act will provide critical resources for departments to provide mental health resources for their officers.

Overall, this is about investing in the brave men and women in our departments — in their careers, their well-being, and their futures. That will make our communities safer.

Now, is this bill the be all, end all? Does it cover everything? No, of course not. Are these critical steps to make much needed investment in our local police? Yes.

This bill also builds on work I’ve done already to help ensure that our small town police departments are eligible for critical investment from the federal government. This past year, we passed my amendment in the annual defense bill that will help identify disparities between smaller departments and larger departments in the LESO/1033 program and help ensure our smaller departments are receiving their share of resources.

I am also very focused on helping police departments look for, apply to, and win grants like the COPS grant — it’s a critical part of our work. In recent years, we’ve helped claw back millions of dollars and resources for North Jersey’s police, fire, and EMS departments.

Last Congress, I helped pass the Never Forget the Heroes Act, a bipartisan bill endorsed by the Problem Solvers Caucus — which I co-chair — to fully fund the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund and provide long-overdue support to cover 9/11 survivors, first responders, and their families — for injuries, medical expenses, and other benefits.

I’m also leading the bipartisan Protect and Serve Act, to impose federal penalties on individuals who deliberately target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence. This is all about getting your backs, since you’ve got our backs every single day, always putting your lives on the line to protect us.

But we must do more — which is why we are here today. We need to make more resources available to our police departments — especially our smaller departments — so they can continue to do the dangerous, lifesaving work they do every single day.

My new bipartisan Invest to Protect Act will help us do this, for all of our communities, especially like right here in Newton.

Again, you can’t cut or defund your way to safer communities and better police departments. Instead, it’s about investing to protect.

By working together, and investing in our local law enforcement, I know here, in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us.

Thank you and God bless.