A small slice of peace in partisan wartime broke out in the Senate this week, with unanimous passage of a bill aimed at improving police training for active-shooter situations.
Senators passed the Police Act by voice vote on Wednesday, sending it to the House where companion legislation already awaits. It was among only a handful of bills that have seen widespread, bipartisan approval in the election-year Congress with fewer and fewer legislative days left on the calendar.
The legislation is simple: It would amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to expand the use of federal grants to cover active-shooter training programs. Proponents say such training often falls through the cracks as officers are schooled and prepared for the streets, with much of the problem being attributed to funding snafus.
“There are more than 900,000 law enforcement officers serving our country,” Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and former state Supreme Court justice who wrote the bill, said in a floor speech. “These are folks who get up every morning, and kiss their families goodbye, and go to work, and put on a uniform, and put themselves in harm's way to protect our communities and our families.
“We need to do everything we can do to help professional law enforcement officials learn how to do their job as effectively and as safely as possible. And one simple way we can do that is by making sure that they have access to the very best and latest training techniques.”
The timing of the bill is more nuanced. Cornyn pushed the bill during National Police Week, and trumpeted the case of Officer Gregory Stevens of Garland, Texas. Last May, Stevens shot and killed two Islamic jihadists who were preparing a terrorist attack at a local community center where cartoon images of the prophet Mohammed were being displayed. President Barack Obama awarded Stevens the National Medal of Valor in a ceremony at the White House on Monday.
Cornyn passed the bill in the Senate with the help of Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the House, the cause is being led by Rep. John Carter of Texas, a Republican who chairs a homeland security appropriations subcommittee.
Carter’s district includes Ft. Hood, where 13 people were killed in a mass shooting in November 2009 by a radicalized Islamic U.S. Army major, Nidal Hasan. He was shot and paralyzed from the waist down; he was convicted and sentenced to death in August 2013.
Three more people were shot at the Army base in a 2014 shooting spree which only ended when the gunman also killed himself. Carter also invoked the history of other Central Texas shootings such as the 1991 shootings in Killeen which killed 23 people, as well as other U.S. mass shootings including those in San Bernardino, Calif. in 2015, Virginia Tech University in 2007, Newtown, Conn. in 2012 and Washington D.C. in 2013.
Carter said only about 45 percent of police agencies in the U.S. have undergone active-shooter training.
“Clearly the value of the training is self-evident and the need is greater than ever before. The Police Act opens alternative avenues to fund this vital training,” Carter said in a statement. “Sadly, many first responders believe it is not if, but when, extremists will again terrorize our businesses, schools and families. The threat is real.”