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Police Week Hearing Highlights Challenges Facing Law Enforcement, Communities Across the Country Amid Rising Crime 

May 16, 2023

Police Week Hearing Highlights Challenges Facing Law Enforcement, Communities Across the Country Amid Rising Crime

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence, led by Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX), and the Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology, led by Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY), held a joint hearing to examine the state of U.S. law enforcement and how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) engages with state and local authorities across America to fight crime and terrorism, as well as prepare for disaster response.

Witness testimony was provided by Chief Michael Gerke of the Odessa, Texas Police Department, Sheriff Don Barnes of the Orange County, California Sheriff’s Department, Commissioner Michael Cox of the Boston, Massachusetts Police Department, and Rafael A. Mangual, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. In the hearing, Members heard directly from law enforcement on the challenges they face every day amid rising crime in cities across America, including a porous Southwest border, anti-police rhetoric and violence, soft-on-crime policies, and hurdles to community policing and information sharing. Read and watch highlights of their questioning below. Watch the full hearing here.

WATCH: Pfluger Highlights the Challenges Facing Law Enforcement From Our Open Border

In his opening line of questioning, Subcommittee Chairman Pfluger questioned Chief Gerke on the toll the Biden administration’s open-border policies have taken on West Texas by empowering human trafficking and drug smuggling:

“You’ve identified that fentanyl is one of the greatest harms in Odessa, Texas and the surrounding areas. Since 2019, fentanyl-related deaths among Texans have increased 500 percent. What is the greatest challenge you face in preventing fentanyl deaths and trafficking of fentanyl?”

Chief Gerke answered:

“Once they get into the community, it’s very difficult to root it out. It’s heartbreaking to see that a lot of these fentanyl overdoses and deaths are concentrated on young people. […] You get calls about safe houses, constantly you respond to those things. […] I know just sometime last week, we worked a prostitution sting and actually recovered two Chinese nationals who were trafficked. So it’s an ongoing problem. But I would think it would also be in the State of Texas and probably all over the Southern border.”

WATCH: D’Esposito Details the Toll Crime is Taking on Small Businesses Across the Country

Subcommittee Chairman D’Esposito questioned law enforcement on the effects of rising crime, including theft, on America’s small businesses:

“Community policing is a buy-in. It’s a buy-in between law enforcement, it’s a buy-in between prosecutors, and it’s a buy-in between stakeholders. When one of those parts isn’t bought-in, the community policing falls apart. I believe that small business is the lifeblood of our communities. […] You said that there was $94.5 billion in retail theft throughout this country, the largest in California, and I’m sure New York is probably right behind. When we talk about community policing, and we talk about failed policies, the failure to prosecute, we’ve literally allowed minor crimes—people often roll their eyes and say, ‘you’re fear mongering; this is petty theft.’ I don’t believe that anybody who owns one of those stores that were victims of that $94.5 billion thinks that this is petty. So my question to you is, I think I know the answer, but it seems that we have some differing opinions up here. How do you think that this needs to change? How do we help solve this problem? Because $94.5 billion is a huge sum of money, and I guarantee you that there are business owners throughout this country who have literally shut their doors, main streets that are shuttered because of the crime that we’ve allowed to occur in communities throughout this nation.”

Sheriff Barnes answered:

“You’re absolutely right and, unfortunately, in California, going back to Prop 47, that decriminalized property crime from felonies to misdemeanors resulted in exactly theft holidays. I believe I agree with you that the small family-owned stores suffered the most initially. Now what we’re seeing are large businesses the Walmarts, the Targets, the CVS’ is they have the biggest voices—all these other mom-and-pop shops as you refer to them, they’re a single voice. But now that these larger corporations are being impacted, we’re seeing the outcome of these bad policies in very urban areas. In San Francisco recently, we had Nordstroms leave, CVS has left. Others have vacated that city, and I think we’re starting to see a trend.”

WATCH: LaLota Discusses Police Morale and the Importance of Community Policing 

Rep. Nick LaLota (R-NY) questioned witnesses on the hurdles facing law enforcement in community policing and how the federal government can provide solutions:

“As this is National Police Week, I want to discuss the ways the federal government can be helpful to local law enforcement. As my colleague from Rhode Island said, we want to be solutions oriented. So chief, sheriff, and commissioner, my first question is for you gentlemen. In my home state of New York, we have unfortunately seen some of our elected leaders choosing to support criminals more than our law enforcement officers. In particular, cashless bail has been a disaster from the very beginning. My question is what would morale look like for your departments, for your officers, for your deputies if they knew a criminal they had just taken in would be released nearly hours later with no incentives to show back to court?”

Sheriff Barnes answered: 

“That’s exactly the environment we are operating in in California. […] I think we have a highly supportive community and that’s probably the first most paramount thing is having great community support. The media rhetoric is not accurate; the vast majority of Americans do support policing. […] I think one of the biggest issues, probably, beyond what this support can do is get us out of social work. That solves probably one of the biggest issues—that we have to deal with the mental illness, the substance use, that we proliferate. Right now, 1,000 people in my jail are on medication-assisted treatment. I have half of my people entrusted to my care have a daily nexus of mental health treatment. I run the largest detox facility in our county, the Orange County Jail. […] But when you look at resources and how tasked we are, getting us out of social work and letting us do the job we got into do, policing, would probably be the biggest morale boost for our team.”

Chief Gerke answered:

“In my neck of the woods, which is West Texas, we measure distance in time, not in miles. So I would have to second what the sheriff says in reference to mental health. If we encounter someone in crisis, that officer that is assisting that person in crisis will be tied up their entire shift. So that includes a trip to a medical facility, but then they will have to transport that person in crisis to a mental health facility, which many times is two, two and a half hours away. That does nothing for the officer and absolutely does nothing for that person in crisis. Could you imagine being in crisis and having to ride in a police car for two and a half hours before you can get help? So that’s an issue for us, and that’s an issue that needs to be fixed, and we’ve been asking for it to be fixed forever.”

WATCH: Strong Questions Witnesses on Falling Police Morale Due to Anti-Police Rhetoric

Rep. Dale Strong (R-AL) highlighted the falling morale of America’s law enforcement following two years of anti-police rhetoric, targeted violence, and decreased funding in certain cities:

“In the last two years, our country has become less safe, both for the average American and for our law enforcement officers. This year’s FBI data regarding line of duty deaths paint the picture. The number of ambush attacks on law enforcement officers in 2022 reflects a 50 percent increase from the previous year. We may disagree on how we got here. But we should all agree that we need to do more to support law enforcement and ensure that they can safely carry out their mission. […] Chief Gerke, how has the current climate impacted your ability to do your job?”

Chief Gerke answered: 

“The current climate is one of the reasons that we see the numbers of sworn individuals in a lot of municipalities have gone down. Everyone has open positions because they see the danger involved in policing. It’s broadcasted constantly. […] Law enforcement officials have done some very bad things in the recent past, but those things are getting attributed to every police officer, every sheriff’s deputy in the United States, which is an absolutely false statement. I will absolutely say that no one wants to get rid of a bad police officer, a bad deputy more than a good police officer or a good deputy. So I think that those things absolutely impact us numbers wise and when you don’t have numbers, it affects your ability to do your job.”

Rep. Strong then asked about the dangers of defunding the police, and Sheriff Barnes answered:

“I believe that it’s the right policing leads to less crime. So it’s not a saturation. It’s an engagement. It’s partnering with the community. It’s having great multifaceted programs, juvenile based, school-based response, faith community based. It’s all based on relationships.”

Mr. Mangual answered:

“The overwhelming conclusion that you can draw from the body of research on the effect of policing on crime is that the more policing—and quality matters—the less crime that you’re going to have. So when you divert funds away from the sort of tip of the spear in your core law enforcement institutions, that is going to make streets less safe. I think the data bears that out in every analysis.”

WATCH: Brecheen Highlights the Work of Law Enforcement in Combating Illicit Fentanyl in Our Communities 

Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-OK) asked what law enforcement was seeing on the ground regarding the worsening drug crisis in our communities, which has been worsened by the illicit fentanyl flowing across the Southwest border:

“In 2021, we know that 70,000 deaths occurred—it’s the leading cause of death, fentanyl poisoning. Many times people think that they’re taking some other substance but they’re taking fentanyl, and it leads to their demise. And that 70,000 would be as if a jetliner every day were crashing to get to that annual number. It’s the leading cause of death aged 18 to 45. […] The deadly mixture of ‘tranq’ that keeps Narcan from being able to revive someone. My question to anyone on the panel, what are you seeing with this?”

Sheriff Barnes answered:

“We’ve seen the presence of xylazine increase over the last four years to become much more dominant. So we know that that is a causal factor in the synergy created with fentanyl. So it is an ongoing issue. […] In our analysis of fentanyl addiction, the vast majority of those deaths are people not taking one pill, they’re people who are addicted to fentanyl, who are seeking out fentanyl as an addiction that is causing their demise. […] The clandestine-produced pills have obviously been sold—Xanax, oxycontin, oxycodone, and other things—you’d have xylazine sometimes mixed.”