A new public safety bill in Congress sponsored by U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin will create a nationwide alert system to locate and arrest criminals who kill or harm police officers, reassuring law enforcement officials in Charles County.
The Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015 also is designed to send alerts when “imminent or credible threats of harm” are made against police, a Cardin news release states.
Cardin (D-Md.) met local law enforcement heads Monday at the Charles County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in La Plata to promote the bill and address issues facing police in Southern Maryland.
“When someone puts your life at jeopardy by an assault on you or [by trying] to kill you, it affects each one of us,” Cardin told the gathering of officers. “And we have to do a more effective job of helping you and protecting you from that danger.”
The Blue Alert law, Cardin said, would be coordinated through the Department of Justice; Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry (D) said a mass alert would be dispersed through message boards, social media and highway signs.
Cardin is confident the legislation will be enacted into federal law shortly. He said it is cosponsored by 25 U.S. senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and that Blue Alert is, therefore, “not a partisan issue.”
“It’s a great thing,” Cpl. Jonathan Palmer, president of the Charles County Correctional Officers Association, said of the bill.
Palmer said he thinks Blue Alert would make the law enforcement community safer and establish effective communication between agencies throughout the country.
Sgt. John Elliot, president of Charles County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 24, said getting information out on persons of interest nationwide is “critical to us.”
Discussion of key law enforcement problems in the tri-county region was left open to officers, who shared their concerns with Cardin in a roundtable meeting. The chief topic was heroin and prescription medication abuse in Charles County and Maryland.
Heroin is being produced in areas outside the county, said Capt. Dave Ruel of the Maryland State Police Criminal Enforcement Division. In Maryland, the drug primarily is being trafficked from Annapolis and the greater Anne Arundel County area, in addition to neighboring states.
Complicating the issue is the health care system, Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony Covington (D) said. Heroin use has exploded in the state partly due to an excess of unnecessary prescriptions written by doctors, he said. Covington told Cardin that law enforcement needs more federal assistance to stop such practices.
Heroin has become an epidemic in the county and state, Berry said, because prescription pain medications often mimic the chemical makeup of the opiates found in heroin. The high cost of prescription pills can drive addicts to take heroin and commit crimes to feed their habits, he said.
While his office has been communicating with federal partners and the sheriff’s offices of St. Mary’s and Calvert counties to combat heroin dealing, Berry told Cardin more federal funding is needed for enforcement needs, drug awareness programs in schools and programs that help reformed convicts re-enter society.
More than 70 percent of incarcerations in the country, Berry said, involve nonviolent criminals who ultimately will return to their communities.