US SENATOR: Wants to Cut Support for Families of Fallen Officers

Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was disgusted, but not entirely surprised, after learning that Senator Thomas A. Coburn, MD (R-OK), has called for the repeal of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program. The program provides a one-time benefit to the surviving family members of public safety officers killed in the line of duty.

“Senator Coburn is an implacable foe of law enforcement,” Canterbury said. “He has voted against law enforcement and public safety at every opportunity, not just on funding issues, but on issues related to officer safety and the efficient delivery of emergency services. He is actively anti-law enforcement and his efforts are really undermining public safety.”

“Attacks on discretionary spending programs—which is what the Senator is known for—are merely acts of political cowardice and budgetary sleight-of-hand,” Canterbury said. “A true fiscal hawk would be targeting the bloated national debt, reducing the amount spent on defense and entitlements. Instead, Senator Coburn seeks to save a few nickels on the backs of families who have just buried their loved one.”

In a recent letter to Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, Senator Coburn weighs in with his views on H.R. 4018/S. 1696, the “Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvements Act,” writing:

“I have serious federalism concerns with a federal program that provides state and local employees with death and disability benefits.”

“Senator Coburn opposes any Federal involvement in protecting the citizens of our streets, schools and neighborhoods, be it funds, material support or what have you,” Canterbury said. “He’s made it very, very clear that crime is not a Federal concern—rejecting a national policing strategy that has been in place for a generation and yielded the lowest national crime rates since we began recording the data. Perhaps he believes our local communities should be patrolled by posses and militias.”

Senator Coburn’s well-known fiscal hawkishness and his commitment to the precepts of federalism have given way to outright hostility to any government activity—policing, fire-fighting, emergency medical response—that is not specifically Federal in nature. Now, he proposes to repeal the PSOB program because most of the families’ members who have lost their lives in the line of duty were employed by State and local governments. He writes:

“Instead of expanding a program that is not the responsibility of the federal government, we should be working to terminate it.”

“Disgust. That is really the only way to describe my reaction,” Canterbury said. “A family that loses a loved one in the line of duty should just be left adrift, their sacrifice ignored because their loved one was a local firefighter or State Trooper and not a Federal agent? This benefit is not for the local or State employee, they’re already dead. It’s for the family they leave behind. Since Senator Coburn was sworn in as a U.S. Senator, seventeen police officers were killed in the line of duty in Oklahoma. Seventeen families lost a son, father or brother, and I am sure some or all of these families relied on the PSOB program to help them through the financial hardships they faced after the loss of their loved one. And Senator Coburn would repeal this benefit? Why? To achieve what public policy goal? To ensure that law enforcement families are placed in financial jeopardy if their local officer or State Trooper is gunned down in the line of duty?”

“Jurisdiction has nothing to do with it. The danger faced by a Federal officer is no different than that of a local or State officer,” Canterbury continued. “When a police officer puts himself in harm’s way, he does not stop to think about whether this is a local, State or Federal issue. He does not stop to ask the offender if he is committing a local, State or Federal crime. He acts in the best interest of the safety of those he has sworn to protect.”

Senator Coburn has one of the worst voting records in the United States Senate when it comes to law enforcement and public safety issues. In this Congress, he has emerged as a leader against law enforcement and other public safety officers, pursuing a clear anti-public safety agenda. His latest proposal is not only an affront to law enforcement families, but an effort by him to drive a wedge between Federal law enforcement officers and their State and local counterparts.

“Senator Coburn’s object seems to be to eliminate any cooperation between Federal law enforcement and the officers at the State and local levels,” Canterbury said. “He’s voted to defund multijurisdictional task forces on drug and human trafficking, as well gang activity, which is not constrained by jurisdictional boundaries. He’s opposed to a National Blue Alert bill even though such a system in his home State is already law. At every opportunity, he makes a real effort to make the jobs of local and State law enforcement more difficult and more dangerous. And that just makes all of us less safe.”

You can read the full text of Senator Coburn’s letter here.