Rob Portman: Congress must tackle police officer safety


Earlier this month Ohio experienced a tragic loss, as another police officer was killed in the line of duty. He responded to a call for help and was ambushed by a gunman who shot and killed three people before taking his own life.

The fallen police officer was Kirkersville, Ohio Police Chief Steven Eric Disario. Chief Disario was 36 years old, and a father of six. His widow, Aryn, is currently pregnant with their seventh child—a child who will never know his father.

What that child will know is that his dad died a hero, risking his life to protect innocent people.

That’s what police officers do. They keep us safe. They take dangerous criminals, weapons, and drugs off our streets. They enforce the law, and even their presence helps deter crime.

They do all of these things at great risk—at the risk even of their lives.

Violence against police officers is cowardly, and ultimately it’s an attack on all of us, because police officers represent our laws. Those who commit these acts must be brought to justice.

That’s why I’ve recently introduced legislation called the Back the Blue Act, which would increase penalties on those who intentionally try to hurt our police officers. If this bill becomes law, criminals will know that, if they try to kill or injure a police officer, they will pay a very high price. I believe that will make some of them think twice and will save lives.

To keep our law enforcement officers and other first responders safe, Congress must also address the influx of dangerous synthetic forms of heroin like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are endangering police officers in Ohio and across the country. Heroin is one of the deadliest and most addictive drugs there is, but these synthetic drugs can be 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

The same day Chief Disario was killed, Officer Chris Green of East Liverpool police pulled over a car in a routine traffic stop. He saw that there was some white powder sprinkled in the car. Officer Green took the smart precautions and put on a mask and gloves while removing the powder.

He didn’t realize that a small amount of the powder ended up on his shirt. Once he got back to the police station, he touched the powder—and immediately collapsed of a fentanyl overdose. That was all it took.

Fortunately his fellow officers were able to save his life with naloxone, a miracle drug that can actually reverse the effects of an overdose. After he was revived, East Liverpool Police Chief John Lane said, “if he had been alone, he’d be dead. That’s how dangerous this stuff is.”

Officer Green is not the only police officer to experience this. There was a famous case in 2015 where two officers in Atlantic County, New Jersey overdosed on fentanyl just by breathing in the air near a crime scene.

These drugs are making the dangerous job of being a police officer even more dangerous. All it takes is a few specks to kill you. If you take a salt shaker and shake out 32 tiny grains of salt, that will show you the amount of fentanyl that can kill you.

That’s why the Fraternal Order of Police and the Major County Sheriffs of America are asking Congress to pass legislation called the STOP Act, which I have authored with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The STOP Act would make it harder for traffickers to bring these drugs into our communities.

It’s a simple idea. Right now, private mail carriers like UPS and FedEx require shipments coming into this country to provide what’s called advance electronic data: digital information about where it’s coming from, where it’s going, and what’s in it. But the Postal Service does not have this requirement in place. That makes it easy for traffickers to ship these powerful drugs from labs in places like China right into Ohio.

The STOP Act would simply make the Postal Service require the same information the private carriers do. That would make it easier for law enforcement to detect packages containing fentanyl or synthetic drugs and help keep this poison out of our communities.

Our police officers deserve laws that make them, and the communities they serve, safer. Their jobs are dangerous enough already. Congress should pass these two pieces of legislation right away, and show our support for these heroes who risk their lives for us every day.

Rob Portman

Guest columnist

Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio. You may contact him through his website: https://www.portman.senate.gov/public/

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