An official with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund urged governments at all levels today to think twice before laying off police officers, amid an alarming increase in murders and attacks on law enforcement nationwide.
CLIFFVIEWPILOT PHOTO (No re-use without hyperlink)
“You know, our police and our fire and EMS, our first responders, we have to be sure we’re giving them all the tools that we can so that they can do their jobs as effectively as possible,” said Steve Groeninger, following a meeting of Justice Department leaders at which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to send federal authorities to try and stem the frightening tide.
It’s only March, but the death of a police officer at the hands of a carjacker in Athens, Ga., this afternoon — just minutes before Holder’s meeting in Washington — brought the number of federal, state and local officers who have died in the line of duty this year to 50. Nearly half were shot dead.
Last year, 162 officers were killed — 61 of them by gunshots. It was the deadliest year for law enforcement in nearly two decades, the attorney general said.
“[T]his year we are unfortunately on track to exceed the numbers we saw last year,” Holder told reporters before a closed-door meeting Tuesday with more than two dozen police chiefs from cities such as Philadelphia, New York and Washington, as well as FBI Director Robert Mueller and U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton.
Calling the number “unacceptable,” Holder said he has directed all 93 top federal prosecutors — including New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman — to meet with police brass in their states.
He said he wants teams to identify “the worst of the worst” gun offenders who cycle in and out of state prison — and instead find a way to bring federal cases against them instead. These carry definite sentences, with barely a few weeks off for good behavior, if a federal convict is lucky enough, as opposed to state sentences that often put offenders back on the street in no time.
“It will be a priority for every United States attorney in this country to have that kind of interaction with their state and local counterparts to make sure that we are doing all that we can to keep law enforcement agents… safe,” Holder said.
The Justice Department is in the middle of a grant program to train police to anticipate and survive a violent attack. They’re asking Congress for $3.5 million to expand the program next year.
I have covered justice at all levels — local, county, state and federal — for more than 30 years and never once saw a meeting of this breadth and depth.
“These numbers concern me, as they should all Americans,” Holder wrote Tuesday in a letter to Justice Department officials across the country. “We rely on our law enforcement officers to protect our lives and property and we must do all that we can to make sure they are protected while on duty.”
Officials have also become increasingly concerned with officers putting personal information on Facebook and other social networking sites that could render them targets.
The Justice Department invited the National Rifle Association to attend Tuesday’s meeting, but the group declined, calling it a “transparent attempt to appease the anti-Second Amendment base of President Obama.”