A Solution for Our Swamped Police Departments


Senator Deb Fischer

By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer

For sixteen hours in 1969, Montreal, Canada was a Defund the Police experiment. The city’s whole police force went on strike, giving rise to what is now called Montreal’s “Night of Terror.”

Just three hours after the police strike began, the first bank was robbed. Robbers stormed nine more before officers returned. There were 450 break-ins and over 30 armed holdups. The result of Montreal’s Night of Terror was two dead men, dozens of injuries, over a hundred arrests, and close to $3 million in property damage.

Less than a day without police was a nightmare for Montreal. But in some areas of our country, we are inching closer to that nightmare. Portland, Oregon cut almost $16 million from its police budget in July 2020. Over the following eight months, murders more than tripled, increasing from 17 in July 2019 to February 2020 all the way to 63 in July 2020 to February 2021. Minneapolis, New York City, and Los Angeles experienced similar trends.

Defund the Police created chaos in those cities. But police forces are not only shrinking because of government cuts. In 2022, almost 50 percent more officers resigned than in 2019. Almost 20 percent more officers retired. The number of police officers nationwide decreased by 4,000 between 2020 and 2023. A study in 2023 found that over the prior two years, at least 12 American towns completely dissolved their police departments.

Law enforcement is experiencing a staffing crisis. I regularly speak with officers and sheriffs back home who tell me these high rates of resignation and retirement are dealing a blow to their departments. My question at each of these meetings is: how can I make federal tools more supportive of your work at the local level in Nebraska?

Based on those conversations, I introduced the Recruit and Retain Act, which the House passed by an overwhelming vote this week. I’m thankful to the Nebraska officers and sheriffs who collaborated with me to craft legislation with bipartisan appeal.

The Recruit and Retain Act offers our law enforcement better access to resources that can address staffing issues. My legislation improves the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, hiring grant program. The bill extends COPS grants for specific onboarding expenses like background checks and psychological evaluations. These changes will allow departments to consider more applicants and hire more officers. My bill also establishes a program to promote student interest in law enforcement careers, creating a new hiring pipeline.

Finally, Recruit and Retain directs the Government Accountability Office to investigate the causes of recent recruitment challenges and their effects on public safety. We’ve seen some of these causes and effects already in Portland, Minneapolis, New York, and Los Angeles. The far-left Defund the Police push has demonized law enforcement, and cuts to police funding has resulted in rising crime levels. But we still need comprehensive studies that evaluate all levels of law enforcement across the country.

The practical changes in the Recruit and Retain Act will take our law enforcement a step forward in rebuilding their departments, a goal that will serve officers, local communities, and our nation as a whole. Choosing not to support our law enforcement is to choose the chaos and lawlessness of nightmares. But by passing my bill, the House and the Senate have both chosen to support our police as they face these staffing challenges. I look forward to the president signing Recruit and Retain into law soon.