Our law enforcement officers, and the families who support them, give so much in service to their communities. As we were tragically reminded a little over a week ago, with the death of Kirkersville Police Chief Eric Disario, some make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe.
Sadly, Chief Disario is not alone. Officer David J. Fahey, Jr. of the Cleveland Police Department died in January from injuries sustained in a hit-and-run while he was working the scene of an accident.
And last week in Washington, we honored Police Week, and the five Ohio officers killed in the line of duty in 2016: Patrolman Aaron Christian of Chesapeake, Trooper Kenneth Velez, Officer Sean Johnson of Hilliard, Officer Steven Smith from Columbus, and Officer Thomas Cottrell, Jr. of Danville.
As we honor the work and sacrifices made by our law enforcement officers, we need to offer more than kind words – we need action to support law enforcement as they work to keep Ohio communities safe.
I’m proud that last week the Senate unanimously passed several pieces of bipartisan legislation – which I was proud to cosponsor – that will provide new support to the officers who protect us, and the families who sacrifice alongside them.
This legislation would put pressure on the Department of Justice to speed up claims processing so families of disabled officers or fallen officers get the benefits they are owed more quickly; authorize police departments to use certain federal grant funding to hire veterans as law enforcement officers; and help law enforcement agencies establish or enhance mental health care services, like peer mentoring pilot programs and crisis hotlines, for their officers.
But there’s still more we can and must do.
We have a solemn obligation to the children of fallen officers, whose lives are forever changed because of the heroism of their parents. The bipartisan Children of Fallen Heroes Scholarship Act, which I am cosponsoring, would increase access to Pell Grants to the surviving children of law enforcement who lay down their lives for their communities.
We also need to do more to give our officers the tools they need to protect themselves as they work to keep us safe. Last week, I joined a bipartisan group of Senators in calling for full funding of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership.
I’ve also written to the Department of Justice urging them to speed up distributing funding we passed last year to train first-responders as they deal with opioid related incidents, and to purchase resources and devices to use in the field to protect themselves against these deadly drugs.
More and more officers are exposed to dangerous opioids like fentanyl out in the field. Recently, an officer in East Liverpool, Ohio was the victim of an accidental fentanyl overdose after being exposed to the drug while making an arrest. We need to make sure they have the equipment they need to detect and handle this deadly opioid safely.
Our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line each day to protect us. This Police Week, we owe them more than gratitude – we must do all we can to support the selfless men and women that serve our communities and country every single day.