WASHINGTON, DC – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced the bipartisan Equity in Law Enforcement Act of 2015 on Wednesday, which aims to expand the federal death benefits afforded to state and local law enforcement to include first responders who serve private institutions of higher education and rail carriers. The bill, introduced on the two-year anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, would make these individuals eligible for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program.
The federal PSOB program provides financial assistance to police, firefighters, and EMTs who are gravely injured on the job and a one-time benefit payment to the survivors of public safety officers who die as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty. According to law enforcement sources, since 1960, 35 college or university law enforcement officers have lost their lives while on duty. While some families of those officers serving at public universities have received line-of-duty death benefits through PSOB, the families of officers who were killed while serving at private colleges and universities have been ineligible. This group notably includes the families of Patrol Officer Sean Collier of the MIT Police Department, who was killed on duty on April 18, 2013 during a manhunt in the wake of the April 15, 2013 Boston Bombings, and Patrol Officer Joseph Doyle, who died from injuries he sustained while making an arrest at Brown University in Rhode Island 27 years ago.
“For those brave individuals who wear the badge, this legislation affirms that service to any community is a service to all communities and should be honored equally,” said Senator Markey. “Officer Sean Collier wasn’t just protecting the best and the brightest minds at MIT, he was the best and the brightest, an impressive and loved officer who has been greatly missed on campus and in the community. This legislation honors him and recognizes that he made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. We should recognize that sacrifice and the sacrifices of all our law enforcement officers with this assistance for their families who’ve suffered great loss and deserve our support.”
“These men and women are dedicated to protecting our communities, and they deserve not only our thanks for their service, but also the full protections and benefits associated with law enforcement work,” said Senator Reed, who has been working on this issue for more than a decade. “When Officer Sean Collier of the MIT Police Department encountered the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings two years ago, he wasn’t just serving the MIT campus, but the City of Boston as well, working alongside his fellow officers to protect the city and the nation. Every day they report for duty, these first responders encounter the same safety risks as state and local law enforcement, but when tragedy strikes their sacrifice is currently not equal in the eyes of the law. I am pleased to have a bipartisan group of colleagues join me in introducing legislation to help remedy this discrepancy and better ensure that all officers who protect and serve have access to the protective equipment they need.”
“We need no additional reminders of the dangers faced by first responders when tragedy or disaster strike. We count on fully trained and sworn police officers to protect us — whether they are employed by a public university, like the University of Vermont, or a private institution, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and they should be able to count on us. I am proud to again support the Equity in Law Enforcement Act,” said Senator Leahy, who has authored several laws to close gaps in the PSOB program.
“Our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe, and they should all have access to basic federal benefits – regardless of whether they are serving a state or municipal police force or a private university,” said Senator Whitehouse. “The aftermath of the Boston bombing in 2013 was a reminder of that, and I thank Senator Reed for introducing this legislation to assist these officers and their families.”
The bill introduced today would make law enforcement officers serving private colleges and universities, as well as rail carriers, eligible for many of the same federal benefits that are currently provided to those working at public institutions. It would also give these additional officers access to federal grant programs for protective body armor and other equipment through the Department of Justice’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership and Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) programs. The legislation would only apply to officers who are sworn, licensed, or certified to enforce the law within their jurisdiction and would be retroactive to April 15, 2013, the day of the Boston bombings.
Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Somerville) has introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
This bipartisan proposal is supported by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA).
(Press release from Senator Ed Markey’s Office.)