In the face of continuing threats to our nation, we are asking our first responders to do more and more to protect us. Whether it is fighting the coronavirus on the frontlines, rescuing victims of a natural disaster, or responding to a terrorist threat, the responsibilities of our public safety officers have grown exponentially to face the challenges of a changed world.
As Co-Chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus and Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus, I have long been a staunch advocate for our first responders and I have authored and sponsored numerous bills in support of these heroes. My Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement (FIRE) Act was signed into law in 2000 by President Bill Clinton as the first comprehensive national legislation dedicated to meeting the needs of America’s 32,000 volunteer, paid, and part-paid fire departments.
I additionally authored the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act, which requires universities to issue an annual fire safety report to their enrolled and prospective students. In July 2018, I celebrated the signing into law of my Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, which created a national cancer registry for firefighters diagnosed with the deadly disease. In 2019, my legislation permanently authorizing the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program to provide life-saving equipment to law enforcement officers was signed into law. In 2021, my Protecting America’s First Responders Act to expand first responders benefits for those who tragically die or are permanently disabled in the line of duty was passed into law.
I agree with President Biden that “The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.” To that end, one of my top successes in Congress has been ensuring we provide federal grants and funding for our first responders to equip, train, and staff local law enforcement departments. I have also pressed for a risk-based funding formula and for increased funding for the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), which addresses the unique needs of urban areas. I have also championed the UASI Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), which provides support to vulnerable non-profits, including houses of worship and synagogues in New Jersey, to protect them against terrorist attacks and violent domestic extremism.
As a mayor and now in Congress I have long supported community policing as a useful framework to keeping our communities safe. Community policing prioritizes listening, community relationships, trust, and de-escalation and has been a pivotal element in my attempts to build bridges between people and police. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the deaths of Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner, and Philando Castile, among many other Black Americans shows beyond all doubt that policing in our country is badly broken.
To bring needed reforms to policing, I supported the pathbreaking Justice in Policing Act to help change the culture of law enforcement so trust can be rebuilt between officers and our communities. This legislation takes key steps to achieve transformative, structural change to combat the pattern of violence and injustice by outlawing racial profiling, mandating de-escalation training, banning chokeholds and other excessively violent techniques, stanching the flow of military equipment onto our street corners, and bringing transparency and accountability to policing.
Every day we put our lives into the hands of our nation’s first responders. This is a huge responsibility to bear. Our first responders risk their lives every day for us, and it is my mission in Congress to support them.