Two months ago, I gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. If you didn’t catch it, it was about H.R. 1280, the “George Floyd Justice In Policing Act,” a bill that passed the House largely along party lines with a final vote of 220 in favor and 212 opposed. This bill — which faces a steep uphill climb in the Senate — would criminalize chokeholds, ban no-knock warrants and overrule “qualified immunity,” among other provisions.
During my speech, I dropped my husband’s SWAT vest on the table next to the podium and talked about the importance of our first responders and law enforcement officers. My husband Matt is a professional firefighter and an on-call SWAT medic for the Gainesville Police Department in Gainesville, Florida. He’s responded to gruesome murders, hostage crises and dozens of other dangerous situations. He values his work and the community he serves, but I hold him tight when a call comes in at 2 o’clock in the morning and he rushes to get dressed and head out the door.
To these heroes just like my husband, getting up and going to work every day is a life-or-death affair. For the spouses and families of our law enforcement officers (LEOs), it is never a sure bet that their loved ones will return home at the end of the day. I can think of fewer jobs more dangerous, yet more important to the very law and order that holds together the fabric of this country.
Despite increased, and dangerous, anti-police rhetoric over the last several years, our law enforcement officers have worked dutifully to perform their jobs, maintain the highest ethical standards, and uphold the values of their communities. More and more they’re told by those they’ve sworn to defend and protect that their profession is evil, that they’re “pigs,” and that their departments should be defunded.
These sentiments aren’t so easy to brush off, and sadly, leadership in dozens of cities across the country have heeded rallying cries to “defund the police,” reducing their police budgets by more than $870 million nationwide. From New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago to Seattle, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Baltimore, decreased police spending has encouraged some officers to retire early and others to leave the force altogether.
In Baltimore, the police force has fallen below 700 sworn officers, prompting leadership to face the tough decision to close some police districts due to low morale. Across the country’s 50 largest cities, at least 23 have seen chiefs of high-ranking line officers resign, retire, or take disability. Since the beginning of the year, more than 4,000 police officers have left the force. And these trends should worry us.
In one of the counties in my district, since January 2018, the local sheriff’s department has lost 100 sworn deputies, 38 dispatchers, and 42 detention deputies. These losses have cost the sheriff’s office more than $6.1 million in just over three years. These figures hit close to home, and they hurt. As they should.
When communities lose police officers, we lose valuable community resources that help to keep our citizens safe. We lose dedicated public servants that have devoted their lives’ work to being positive influences and bettering the places they call home, too. We lose the law and order that governs our society.
Instead, the resources that used to be spent on salaries, equipment and public safety, are going to community organizations that promise to teach about de-escalation. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I want a social worker responding to a domestic disturbance where a man is senselessly beating his wife while his children watch. It seems like a well-trained police officer is more suited to handle this situation than anyone else.
As we mark National Police Week this week, I challenge my colleagues and fellow Americans to think about the sacrifices our law enforcement officers make. This year, we’ve lost 119 in the line of duty, and it’s only the beginning of May. In the face of extremely low morale and rock-bottom public opinion, think about what these professionals endure every day.
Our brave men and women in uniform are far more than just the people who uphold law and order in our hometowns. They are moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters who perform a critical, and often dangerous job to protect and serve all while trying to return home to their families at the end of every shift. And I can tell you as a wife who says goodbye to her first responder husband at the beginning of each shift that the fear of them not coming home is real.
For all the families and LEOs out there, I know the conversations around the dinner table are not getting any easier or more comfortable. I know because I’ve had them. But please know that in the midst of these very painful and uncomfortable conversations, there is a thin blue line army that is growing by the day. It is made up of Americans from all walks of life who stand in defense of our police and their families.
To my Republican colleagues: Thank you for taking a stand and for having the backs of our LEOs, not just in words but also through action. To our Democratic colleagues who have called for the defunding of our heroes, please feel free to join us for an educational ride along. To all our first responders and LEOs and their families; thank you. Please know we’ve got your six. Finally, to all of those who we’ve lost in the line of duty, rest easy. We’ve got the watch.
• Kat Cammack, a U.S. representative, is the youngest Republican woman in the 117th Congress. She represents Florida’s Third Congressional District and serves on the House Homeland Security and Agriculture Committees.