Blackburn, Ossoff Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Fill Law Enforcement Vacancies and Strengthen Vetting of Recruits

March 24, 2023

U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) introduced the bipartisan Filling Public Safety Vacancies Act to help law enforcement agencies reduce staffing shortages and effectively protect communities.

In Tennessee, law enforcement agencies have experienced staffing shortages. The Knoxville Police Department reported being 10% understaffed in April 2022, and the Nashville Metro Police Department was 193 officers short in December 2022.

Blackburn and Ossoff’s bill would provide a one-time emergency boost in funding for the hiring or rehiring of police officers and sheriffs’ deputies, helping agencies fill key vacancies.

The bipartisan bill also establishes a new vetting requirement for officers hired using the supplemental funding provided in the bill, ensuring that they undergo background checks and mental health evaluations. Currently, federal law does not require agencies to perform background checks on new recruits through the Federal COPS Hiring Program.

“The men and women in blue who dutifully protect and serve our communities need our support,” said Senator Blackburn. “In Tennessee and across our nation, I have heard from several community sheriffs who are low on the manpower and resources needed to thoroughly do their jobs. This bipartisan legislation with Senator Ossoff takes a critical step toward strengthening hiring and bolstering our law enforcement community.

“Georgia communities face serious public safety staffing shortfalls. My bipartisan bill will help communities hire and retain officers while ensuring newly hired officers undergo rigorous vetting and background checks unprecedented in federal law,” said Senator Ossoff.

“On behalf of the nation’s Sheriffs, we thank Senators Ossoff and Blackburn for their support of Law Enforcement. Recruitment and retention of law enforcement is a huge challenge right now, and these resources will be invaluable to improving both,” said Jonathan Thompson, Executive Director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “That and increasing crime prevention efforts is vital in keeping our communities safe.” 

“Across the country, police departments are fighting to contain the increased violent crime our communities are facing, but they are understaffed, under-resourced, and struggling to hire and retain good, qualified officers. In introducing the Filling Public Safety Vacancies Act, Senator Ossoff recognizes the vital importance of the COPS Hiring Program, which provides invaluable assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies for the hiring and rehiring of qualified officers,” said Bill Johnson, Executive Director of the National Association of Police Organizations. “This legislation will immediately inject much needed resources to state and local law enforcement agencies to help them hire and rehire thoroughly vetted officers and keep our communities safe.”

“The law enforcement profession continues to struggle with recruiting and retaining officers,” said Eddie Garcia, President of Major Cities Chiefs Association and Chief of the Dallas Police Department. “Nearly every MCCA member is understaffed, which creates many operational and logistical challenges. COPS Hiring Grants are a critical tool, and this infusion of new resources will assist local law enforcement agencies with continuing to hire and rehire additional high-qualified law enforcement officers to serve their communities. The MCCA thanks Senator Ossoff and Senator Blackburn for their leadership on this critical issue.”

Click here to read the bipartisan Filling Public Safety Vacancies Act.