“We — as Congress and as Americans — are nothing without the rule of law and its fair and uniform enforcement. The wholesale condemnation of law enforcement is highly counter-productive.”
WASHINGTON — Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made the following opening statement at today’s oversight hearing on policing practices.
Below are the remarks as prepared.
Ranking Member Collins: In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation designating May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. Every year, tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world come together in Washington, D.C. to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
From 2011 to 2018, House Republicans made sure Police Week and law enforcement were acknowledged, not just with recognition but with legislation that improves and refines law enforcement capabilities and focuses on the well-being of the men and women who protect us every day.
On May 14, 2019, the Senate unanimously passed S. Res. 209, which recognizes federal, state, local and tribal police officers, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers across the United States, who serve every day with valor, dignity and integrity. This year, however, Democrats controlling the House and this committee let Police Week pass without showing any respect at all. They took up only one bill, and, to add insult to injury, at the very time they were considering that bill on the floor, Democrats sent a probing letter to the attorney general concerning alleged civil rights violations by law enforcement. While the majority is well within their rights to send such a letter, I must question their timing. At the very least, it appears tone deaf to send a letter like this while thousands of law enforcement officers are gathering in Washington to honor their fallen brothers and sisters. Personally, I find this particularly disturbing and shameful.
The phrase “Thin Blue Line” denotes the separation of order from chaos. In practical effect, men and women voluntarily take an oath and accept the obligation to respond to any situation — deadly or otherwise — to enforce the law and protect their communities. Every one of these situations is unique — some suspects are under the influence of drugs, some are armed and dangerous and some seek to harm themselves or others. Every day these police officers must make split-second decisions to keep the public and themselves safe. As the son of a former Georgia State Trooper, I know the sense of duty police officers feel toward their communities and colleagues. It is a rewarding profession, but it also has the potential to devastate officers and their families.
I am concerned my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will turn today’s hearing into a crusade against all law enforcement officers based on isolated incidents and anecdotal examples. I am also concerned this hearing will devolve to such a point that we lose sight of what committee Democrats said we’re supposed to be achieving here today: conducting a meta-overview of policing practices and balance community issues with officer wellness, hiring and retention. I hope my fears are not realized.
Crime rates and what they mean for public safety are issues and have been for decades. Since 1930, the FBI has been tasked with collecting and publishing crime statistics using the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Today, the FBI analyzes data from more than 18,000 city, university and college, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies participating in the program. The FBI then publishes these annual reports. Law enforcement and legislators, as well as the public, use this data to refine laws and better allocate resources to help fight crime and keep our communities safe.
The Congressional Research Service’s reports indicates that, at the national level, violent crime and homicide rates increased from 2014 to 2015 and again from 2015 to 2016, but homicide rates are at near historic lows overall. Some of the largest U.S. cities saw increases in violent crime and homicides, or both, and, for some of these cities, the rates were the highest in the past 20 years.
While large cities and smaller communities have seen proportionate increases in crime rates, that doesn’t mean blanket federal edicts will work. On the contrary, such a solution will restrict local governments and law enforcement from effectively addressing crime in each locality. We cannot micro-manage the nearly 18,000 local and state law enforcement agencies in the United States.
We — as Congress and as Americans — are nothing without the rule of law and its fair and uniform enforcement. The wholesale condemnation of law enforcement is highly counter-productive. If patterns of legitimately discriminatory practice exist in specific law enforcement agencies, federal law and the Justice Department should identify and change them. Also, if we adjust federal law, objective data must inform the changes. We cannot use rare occurrences as the basis for indiscriminate changes to enforcing the rule of law.
I look forward to the testimony today.