In Fall 2007, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) approached the House leadership regarding the idea of creating a congressional award that recognized those who sustained injury under heroic circumstances in the line of duty.
The idea at the time was to draw upon the concept of the military Purple Heart and create a similar type of congressional award for law enforcement officers. This concept ultimately morphed into a legislative proposal called The Congressional Badge of Bravery Act of 2007, and was introduced by Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.).
Early in 2008, then Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) introduced the Senate version. With bipartisan support, the bill fast-tracked and was successfully marked up during National Police Week that year. Ultimately, with the support of the Fraternal Order of Police, the bill was passed and signed into law by President Bush on July 31, 2008 (Public Law 110-298).
The final version of the bill created two criteria for award eligibility: first, sustaining physical injury under heroic circumstances; second, performing heroically in the line of duty, without sustaining injury. Officers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty are eligible for this award.
As a result of this law, review boards were convened in 2010 to establish the protocol for reviewing nominations for the award. To structure the review process, a federal review board, and a state and local review board were created. Leaders from the national law enforcement organizations were selected to serve on these review boards. Additionally, members were also appointed by the House and Senate leadership, and by the U.S. Attorney General.
Greg Joy, policy advisor for the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, was appointed by the attorney general to oversee both review boards and facilitate the meetings. Joy, a retired career law enforcement officer, has done a commendable job working with the review board members to stand up this important program. As a result of the respective review board's work, members of Congress were able to present this distinguished award in 2011.
Both review boards recently convened to review all the applications for 2011, in consideration of selection and presentation in 2012. The law creates a nomination period that opens on Dec. 15 and closes on Feb. 15. To be eligible for this award, the act must have occurred in that calendar year period, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. The heads of all respective law enforcement agencies are authorized to submit nominations at the Bureau of Justice Assistance website.
In terms of award presentation, the law calls for a member of Congress or the attorney general to present it to each recipient. According to the published guidelines, the Congressional Badge of Bravery may be presented "to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers who are recommended by either the federal or the state and local Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery Board. This honor is for performing acts of bravery while in the line of duty. These badges are awarded annually."
Why is this award so important? As we all know, the law enforcement profession is unique in that officers are exposed to the prospect of violent confrontations every day. Each year, thousands of law enforcement officers sustain injury during violent confrontations with dangerous criminals. It is important that Congress recognize the heroic performance and sacrifice of the brave men and women in law enforcement. The maintenance of any democratic society comes with a price, and it is important that the heroic work of law enforcement not be taken for granted.
Recent statistics from the FBI indicate that overall violent crime is down in comparison to prior years. However, as made evident by the data published by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, violent crime committed against law enforcement officers increased significantly in 2011. This year, during National Police Week, 362 names of officers killed in the line of duty were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. This number represents 163 law enforcement officers who made the ultimate sacrifice in 2011, as well as those discovered from prior years.
We honored our fallen heroes during the 24th annual Candlelight Vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial last month. And with the Congressional Badge of Bravery, we now have another important avenue for recognizing the heroes among us.