Nearly a decade ago, I had the honor and privilege of being appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas by former President George W. Bush.
My service as the top federal law enforcement officer for more than 33,000 square miles instilled in me an incredible sense of gratitude for the brave men and women who selflessly march into harm’s way each day to uphold law and order in our communities.
Since I first came to Congress, I’ve been dedicated to fighting on behalf of our nation’s law enforcement. And at a time when our nation’s police are being targeted simply for choosing to wear blue, we must do all we can to ensure they’re sufficiently equipped to endure the many dangers they encounter on the job.
In recent months, our country has witnessed a tragic wave of violence targeted against our law enforcement. These events serve as grave examples of the types of lethal situations that make protective defense equipment so important to police safety.
There’s simply no excuse to allow our law enforcement officers to go into the field left unprepared and unprotected.
Just this past weekend, two police officers in Palm Springs, Calif. were fatally shot in a lengthy standoff that occurred during their response to a domestic violence call. And in June, it was state and local law enforcement officers who were first on the scene when the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 unfolded in Orlando.
Defensive equipment proved vital when an anti-ballistic helmet prevented a bullet to the head from killing a responding officer. And in July, a police ambush in Dallas took the lives five officers, including DART Police Officer Brent Thompson of my own district, reminding our nation how perilous it can be to put on a uniform.
While the senseless targeting of law enforcement remains inexcusable by any standard, we must not let this outrage distract us from practicable and achievable efforts to provide our officers with the most sophisticated and effective equipment available.
Unfortunately, our state and local law enforcement officers are facing decreased access to such equipment at a time when they need it the most. This scenario is the result of policy changes made pursuant to an Executive Order issued last year to restrict state and local police from accessing surplus defense equipment that was once provided by a federal program called the 1033 program.
After this action was announced, state and local law enforcement officers across the country expressed their deep concerns about the impact it would have on their ability to defend themselves in the line of duty, and I began seeking legislative action to reverse this life-threatening and indiscriminate executive decision.
My commitment to restoring access to the 1033 program has been reinforced by the personal testimonies of law enforcement officials in my own district and across the country. Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the type of armored vehicles that are being recalled as a result of the Obama administration restrictions to the 1033 program allowed officers to safely approach the San Bernardino shooters’ escape vehicle. “This equipment, while politically incorrect, saved lives on that day,” Canterbury said.
Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson, who was elected to become president of the National Sheriffs’ Association in June 2017, echoes these sentiments.
According to Eavenson, Mine Resistant Armor Protected vehicles not only provide the ability to be used as a shield during active shooter situations, but prove equally critical in rescuing citizens in extreme flooding conditions like we have recently seen in Louisiana. For these reasons Eavenson spent nearly three years in pursuing such equipment for his own county.
In June, substantial progress was made on this front when the House passed an amendment I co-introduced to an annual appropriations bill along with Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.). If signed into law, this measure will help restore our federal live-saving equipment programs for the duration of a fiscal year.
As a next step, I urge my colleagues to pass my standalone bill, the Protecting Lives Using Surplus (PLUS) Equipment Act of 2016 (H.R. 4880) to permanently undo the Executive Order that limited access to this program.
Let’s face it – there’s been far too much violence in the past few months alone to risk losing one more police officer’s life that could have been saved with equipment our country already has.
There’s simply no excuse to allow our law enforcement officers to go into the field left unprepared and unprotected. Providing them with the best equipment possible is the least we can do in return for the great sacrifice they make on our behalf every single day.
Republican John Ratcliffe represents Texas' 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.