August 31, 2016

Lawmakers Inquire About Blue Alert Act Implementation Delays

Lead sponsors of the legislation request update on establishing law enforcement protection alert system in light of recent attacks

WASHINGTON – Today, the original bipartisan sponsors of the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to fully implement this law in the wake of continued attacks on police. The letter was signed by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) and U.S. Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA).

Signed into law by President Obama in May 2015, the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act of 2015 established a nationwide alert system to apprehend violent criminals who have threatened, injured, or killed law enforcement officers. The law is named for New York City Police Department officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu who were assassinated while sitting in their police patrol car in Brooklyn. Their assailant had made credible threats against law enforcement posted on social media before traveling from Maryland to New York City to assassinate the officers.  In such instances, the rapid dissemination of critical, time-sensitive information about suspected criminals is essential to keeping our officers and communities safe.

The statute required DOJ to issue a report to Congress on plans for implementing a Blue Alert system by May 2016. However, no report has been received.

Below is the content of the letter.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Lynch,

As the authors of the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act (Public Law No: 114-12), we are concerned about the lack of progress made in implementing this important law over the past fifteen months. This is especially troubling in light of the deadly attacks on law enforcement in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and across the country.

As you know, the Blue Alert Act facilitates a national Blue Alert communications network within the Department of Justice (DOJ) to disseminate information on the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty, an officer who is missing in connection with the officer's official duties, or an imminent and credible threat that an individual intends to cause the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer.

We understand implementation of the Blue Alert Act is being handled by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). This Act requires an existing officer at DOJ to act as the National Coordinator of the Blue Alert communications network. Section 4, Subsection (f) of the law requires this Coordinator to submit a report to Congress on his or her activities and the effectiveness and status of the Blue Alert plans that are in effect or being developed. The statute requires the issuance of this report by May 19, 2016; however, we understand no report has been submitted to Congress. We urge the swift implementation of this important law and seek your response to the following questions:

  1. Has the COPS Office designated anyone to act as the National Coordinator of the Blue Alert communications network? If not, when does the COPS Office plan to appoint a Coordinator?
  2. Has the COPS Office begun working with states and local governments to promote compatible and integrated Blue Alert plans throughout the United States?  If so, please provide us with a detailed update on the work that has been done. What have been some of the challenges encountered in coordinating and integrating these systems?
  3. What is the status of the report required by law on the activities of the Coordinator and the effectiveness and status of the Blue Alert plans that are in effect or being developed? When does the COPS Office plan to provide this report to Congress?

Every day our nation’s law enforcement officials put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe. The heart-wrenching deaths of the officers killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge remain a national tragedy. They are also a grave reminder that we must do everything we can to help ensure the safety of our police officers when they're in the line of duty. The full and effective implementation of the Blue Alert Act is essential to this endeavor.

We look forward to working with you on implementing this critical law and look forward to your response.