- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

CINCINNATI (AP) - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown wants Veterans Affairs police designated as law enforcement officers with authority beyond VA property, citing an Ohio case in which a shooter fled a medical center.

Ohio’s Democratic senator asked VA Secretary Robert McDonald for the change in a letter sent Thursday. VA police currently don’t have immediate police authority beyond VA property, and that could hinder their ability to respond to threats, Brown said.

The senator wrote McDonald that he believes VA police meet the criteria for federal law enforcement officer designation and that McDonald is authorized to make the change.

“As we saw in Dayton, VA police officers are responsible for the safety of our veterans and your employees,” Brown wrote.

Last year, a former VA employee responsible for a Dayton VA Medical Center shooting fled the facility, with VA police not having authority to immediately pursue him beyond the property, according to Brown’s office. One person had been shot in the ankle in a scuffle after the former employee pointed a gun at several employees. The ex-employee was arrested later by other law officers and pleaded guilty to an assault charge.

Giving VA’s first responders federal law enforcement officer status would honor their work and expand their ability to protect veterans and employees, Brown said in a statement.

The VA will review Brown’s letter and respond to his office directly, agency spokeswoman Ndidi Mojay said.

VA police duties under the proposal would depend on policies and regulations set by the secretary and relationships with local law enforcement, Brown’s office said.

The senator’s intent isn’t to add more powers or responsibilities to VA police, but to ensure they have the authority to fulfill their responsibilities, according to his office.

VA police are considered a protective uniformed police force, and law enforcement officer designation would enable them to participate in the Federal Employment Retirement System, as do U.S. Capitol Police and U.S. Park Police, the senator’s office said.

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