The FBI Agents Association announced its support Wednesday for a bill passed by Congress that authorizes federal officials to help local authorities respond to mass shootings or other violent crimes in public places, such as the school attack in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults.
Association President Konrad Motyka said the legislation, introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, would "minimize unnecessary confusion and delays" by codifying the authority of federal law enforcement officers to assist state and local officers in the investigation of certain nonfederal crimes.
Mr. Motyka, an FBI agent in New York, said the bill — known as the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crime Act of 2012 — clarifies the statutory language by explicitly granting the FBI the authority to provide investigative assistance, when requested, in cases where those officials are investigating violent acts and shootings in places of public use.
"FBI agents have a long history of working closely with state and local law enforcement officials to investigate crimes. However, the FBI must often find indirect grants of authority in order to assist with state and local investigations," he said. "This is because of the current ambiguous statutory language granting authority to the FBI and other federal law enforcement officers to provide investigative assistance for certain nonfederal crimes, such as mass killings.
"The FBIAA greatly appreciates the action taken by Congress and looks forward to President Obama signing the legislation into law," he said.
The association has a membership of more than 12,000 active and retired agents.
The bill was passed by the Senate on Dec. 17 by unanimous consent. The House version, offered by Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, was passed Tuesday by voice vote.
In introducing the legislation, Mr. Whitehouse said federal law enforcement agencies are often "crucial allies" for local and state officials, such as they were in responding to the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"This bill will give these agencies clear authority to continue to provide this assistance to the state and local law enforcement officials who have primary responsibility to solve these terrible crimes and protect our communities," he said.
Mr. Whitehouse said that the FBI and select other federal agencies often provide assistance on request, but that the absence of an explicit statutory authorization can create unnecessary delays and risks allowing agents responding to these violent crimes to be held liable even though their only goal is to protect the public.
To address this risk, he said the new legislation provides explicit authorization for the FBI, other law enforcement components at the Justice Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Secret Service to provide assistance when requested.
The bill does not expand the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement agencies and applies only when a state or local authority requests assistance.
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