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Pfluger, D’Esposito Deliver Opening Remarks in Law Enforcement Hearing

May 16, 2023

Pfluger, D’Esposito Deliver Opening Remarks in Law Enforcement Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX) and Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technoloy Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) delivered the following opening statements during a joint hearing examining the state of U.S. law enforcement.

The full hearing is livestreamed here.

Watch Chairman Pfluger’s full opening statement during a joint Subcommittee hearing entitled, “Protecting the Homeland: An Examination of Federal Efforts to Support State and Local Law Enforcement.”

Good morning, we are holding this important hearing during National Police Week, a time when we recognize and honor the sacrifices and service of our men and women in law enforcement from across the country.

I am pleased to have some of my constituents join us today. First, I would like to recognize Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke as a witness today. In addition, I am pleased to have Midland County Sherrif David Criner and his wife, Judy, in the audience. I have had the luxury of getting to know both of these gentlemen well over the last two years and I know that Chief Gerke will provide some valuable insight as to what issues rural police departments are facing throughout the country.

Unfortunately, I think we’ve forgotten what it means to support our men and women in law enforcement who serve our communities every day—all of whom are real life heroes.

Last year, 246 law enforcement officers were tragically killed in the line of duty. This year, there have already been 41 officers killed in the line of duty serving their communities.

Just this past Thursday, on May 11th, Sergeant Joshua Clouse of the Cameron Police Department in Texas, was shot and killed by a subject, who was wanted for shooting his wife during a domestic violence incident earlier in the night, as he and other officers executed a search warrant. Sergeant Clouse was an Army veteran, had a wife, and two children. He is a hero, and  I  pray for his family and friends.

We’ve also forgotten the importance of holding people accountable for engaging in criminal activities and preying on law-abiding citizens —from increases in aggravated assaults, robberies, and retail theft to dealing illicit fentanyl, I think many Americans no longer feel safe in their communities.

Some cities are even releasing criminals back into their communities due to zero bail policies and downgrading the sentencing for felonies, allowing these bad actors to continue committing crimes.

What message is this sending to career criminals? It is not one of law and order but instead encourages lawlessness across the homeland—it is unacceptable. While criminals are not being held accountable for their actions, our law enforcement officers face extremely low morale in many places and, unfortunately, in some places, that’s due to anti-police sentiments.

Extreme budget cuts, rogue legal reforms, and the media bias against law enforcement have resulted in significant recruitment and retention challenges for state and local law enforcement agencies across the country.

These factors are not only preventing law enforcement from carrying out their duties to protect Americans, but they are also impeding police agencies across the homeland from having the resources to further train their officers and prevent other mishaps.

If we continue down the path of cutting law enforcement budgets, police departments will be left with the difficult choice between lowering their recruitment standards or being unable to meet their hiring needs.

This Committee has an important role to play as we oversee the Department of Homeland Security, which looks to support state, local, tribal, territorial law enforcement agencies in their efforts to keep our communities safe, secure, and resilient.

From a homeland security perspective, it has been over 20 years since 9/11 happened, yet we still have challenges for the timely sharing of information between the federal government and state and local law enforcement agencies.

While we have made some significant progress, I worry that there continues to be gaps in how we share information in a consistent and timely manner.

We have to work together to overcome these barriers as information sharing is critical to combat the wide variety of threats that we face today.

In particular, when it comes to Fusion Centers, which are primarily state-funded facilities established with the purpose of information sharing between those levels, there is a common saying that says, “If you’ve seen one Fusion Center, you’ve seen one Fusion Center.”

It is important that we ensure DHS is properly supporting Fusion Centers as they serve as focal points in states and urban areas for the receipt, analysis, gathering and sharing of threat-related information.

States, like Texas, have many different threats impacting their communities. I have seen firsthand how metropolitan areas, like the one I visited in San Antonio, can coordinate seamlessly between federal, state, and local levels.

Furthermore, DHS provides various federal grants to assist state, local, tribal, and territorial partners. We need to ensure these grant programs continue and that they are effective in carrying out what their mission says that they should be doing.

Unfortunately, rural areas, like my district, do not experience that luxury and must rely on Fusion Centers that are located in other areas. There have been numerous times in the last month where Texas DPS or CBP were pursuing human smugglers, drug traffickers or other malign actors through small towns in West Texas along the border that have led to catastrophic loss of life. Had a Fusion Center been established that caters to the unique needs of those rural areas, maybe it could’ve been easier for local and state law enforcement agencies to better coordinate with CBP and DPS.

Today, I hope that we can examine this issue, I hope that we can find ways to highlight the information sharing and where it can be more readily available and more effective. Lastly, it is important that our nation must restore a sense of appreciation for the men and women who wear the uniform, who protect our communities, and who have been willing to sacrifice their own lives for the betterment of their communities.

We have a very distinguished panel of witnesses to testify about the challenges between state and local law enforcement agencies, both in rural and urban areas.

I’d like to thank all of our witnesses not just for being here today, but more importantly for you and your family’s sacrifices in being willing to serve our nation.

Watch Chairman D’Esposito’s full opening statement during a joint Subcommittee hearing entitled, “Protecting the Homeland: An Examination of Federal Efforts to Support State and Local Law Enforcement.”

As prepared for delivery:

I would like to thank Chairman Pfluger, Ranking Member Magaziner, and Ranking Member Carter for joining me to convene this hearing today where we will examine the critically important topic of the state of crime in the United States and the federal government’s role in supporting state and local law enforcement efforts throughout the country.

In honor of National Police Week, I first want to thank our nation’s police officers for putting their lives on the line every day to protect our neighborhoods and keep our families safe. As a former NYPD detective, I know first-hand how challenging a career in law enforcement can be. Regardless of the risk, police officers show up every day to put the needs of their community first.

To our police officers and law enforcement serving throughout the nation, thank you for your bravery and your service. We commend you for your unwavering commitment to keeping us all safe. And to those who lost their lives in the line of duty, we honor you and we will never forget the sacrifice you made. To our witnesses, thank you for your participation today in this important hearing. We look forward to hearing from each of you.

As we will hear in your testimonies, the challenges facing our law enforcement community are increasingly complex and ever evolving. Americans can’t turn on the news without hearing stories of carjackings, robberies, and increased acts of senseless violence across the nation, not to mention the continued threat of terrorism. The sad fact is, many Americans no longer feel safe in their communities.

As Members of the Homeland Security Committee, we must ensure that our nation’s law enforcement personnel have the resources and necessary tools to keep our communities safe and to protect our homeland. That is why we are dedicating this time to evaluate how the federal government can continue to support our state and local law enforcement.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) suite of preparedness grants assist state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to prepare for, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.

From lessons learned after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, these grant programs provide local law enforcement with the vital training and equipment they need to prepare for new challenges as they arise in their communities.

In fact, over the past 10 years, the New York City Urban Area has received over two billion dollars in grant funding to prevent, prepare for, and protect against terrorist attacks in the city. My home state has benefited immensely from the Urban Area Security Initiative, the State Homeland Security Grant Program, and the Transportation Security Grant Program— to name only a few. For example, federal grant funding supports the Counterterrorism Officer Program that provides NYPD patrol officers with specialized counterterrorism training to enable officers to conduct counterterrorism operations at specific intelligence-driven locations throughout the city.

Grant funds have been used to purchased concrete barriers to save pedestrians and cyclists from vehicular terrorism – a necessary tool following the 2017 vehicle ramming in lower Manhattan. And grant funds have supported the Vapor Wake Detection Canine Program, which trains canines to trail explosive or chemical odors. With New York remaining a top terror target, the importance of grant funding cannot be overstated.

As the Chairman of the Emergency Management and Technology Subcommittee, I will continue to advocate for robust investment in these security grant programs. However, when examining these grant programs, it is also important to ensure that smaller, or more rural law enforcement agencies across the country have the resources they need to adapt to the changing threat landscape in their respective states.

In the past decade, the threats against our homeland have changed; domestic and smaller-scale acts of terrorism now threaten our communities, and hate-filled attacks have become more frequent. According to a recent FBI report, hate crime incidents increased by 11.6 percent in 2021 – from 8,210 incidents in 2020 to 9,065 in 2021. More than half of all religious hate crimes were motivated by antisemitism, further highlighting the importance of the Non-profit Security Grant Program, which provides our faith-based communities with the means to harden their defenses, acquire security equipment, and provide training to better safeguard their congregants.

The rise in crime across the country points to the importance of FEMA’s preparedness grant programs and the need for strengthening local law enforcement efforts. Today, the national homicide rate is 34 percent higher than it was in 2019. Major crimes in New York rose by 22 percent in 2022. Burglaries and robberies increased by 37 percent. However, instead of supporting law enforcement, calls for slashing police budgets and defunding the police have promoted soft-on-crime policies that allow repeat offenders to roam the streets. At a time when crime is increasing, we should be strengthening our law enforcement, not making our communities more vulnerable.

However, accountability is a two-way-street, and we must also hold our police departments to a higher standard. Small and midsize police departments need targeted investments to address ongoing challenges with recruitment, retention, and PTSD burn-out. We must ensure that police departments across the country are working effectively to serve the people they swore to protect.

Every day, our nation’s police officers are on the frontlines, responding to threats against our homeland. They are our heroes; and right now, they need our support. Whether they serve in big cities like Los Angeles or New York, or in smaller towns like my hometown of Island Park, we owe our law enforcement community a huge debt of gratitude.

Thank you for upholding the rule of law. Thank you for putting yourselves in harm’s way to protect our freedom.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today to learn how we can strengthen local law enforcment efforts. Now more than ever, we must work together to protect our homeland.