Senate committee hearing focuses on how to better protect police officers

WASHINGTON — It was a Friday in April of last year when Officer Zachary Andersen responded to a call in Grundy Center, Iowa.

“Not a day goes by that it doesn’t cross my mind,” said Andersen.

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Andersen was alongside other officers, including Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith, when a suspect barricaded himself in a house after fleeing from a traffic stop and assaulting an officer.

“He was waiting for us with a shotgun,” said Andersen. “He fired two shots, striking and killing Sgt. Smith.”

Andersen’s emotional testimony was part of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday that focused on the challenges facing law enforcement officers and ways to better protect them.

“This is one of the toughest times to wear the badge,” said Angel Novalez, chief of constitutional policing and reform for the Chicago Police Department.

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Law enforcement witnesses told lawmakers there are growing concerns about low morale and trouble with recruitment because of the danger.

“The demonization of police has added to the diminished respect and responsiveness to their authority,” said Sheriff Michael Bouchard from Oakland County, Michigan.

Republicans on the committee pointed to anti-police rhetoric as a driving factor.

“When you allow hatred of a group to spread, people find it easy to justify violent attacks against law enforcement,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

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Democrats on the committee echoed the need to better protect police, while also pointing to a need for police reform.

Last year, the House passed a sweeping police reform bill, named after George Floyd, that aimed to stop racial profiling by police and would have created a national database for police misconduct, among other measures.

But that proposal never made it through the Senate.

“Being from the state where the tragic murder of George Floyd occurred, I’m devoted to reform but at the same time believing that we can invest in law enforcement,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MI) during Tuesday’s hearing.

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Officer Andersen said he is urging Congress to better invest in protecting those who protect the public.

“If something bad happens, make sure we have resources to help to put the pieces back together,” said Andersen.

There is now bipartisan legislation under consideration in Congress to pump millions of dollars into helping small law enforcement agencies with training, equipment and mental health support.