U.S. Senate committee hears testimony about fatal attack on Iowa State Patrol Trooper
Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley, examining violence against law enforcement
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOWT) - The murder of an Iowa State Trooper last year was brought before a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday in an emotional presentation.
The Judiciary Committee is examining why there has been an increase in attacks on law enforcement and how to better protect those public servants. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is also the ranking member on the committee, called for the hearing on attacks on police, which he said have been on the rise in recent years, along with crime across the country.
“Even my home state of Iowa has not escaped this violence,” he said Tuesday in a prepared statement.
In April 2021, Iowa Trooper Jim Smith responded while trying to assist a man who had barricaded himself inside his home in Grundy Center, Iowa. The suspect had already beaten up one officer during a traffic stop; Smith, of Independence, Iowa, was shot and killed responding to a call to assist that officer.
Another officer who responded told senators about how the suspect ambushed them.
“I remember shouts, ‘Jim! Jim!’ Trooper Mount Lively calling out to provide care and remove him from the garage,” said Sgt. Zachary Andersen of Cedar Falls. “Two officers were trapped in the basement and the subject began making threats to kill us all. ‘Come in and start shooting; I’ll kill you like I killed your buddy. I was nice that I shot him in the chest, but come sun up I won’t be so nice and shoot you in the face.’ The words I heard and the events I witnessed will be with me for the rest of my life.”
Andersen said the image of officers has been tarnished in recent years thanks to rhetoric in the news that paints an incomplete picture of what an officer did or didn’t do. He said his experience pushed him to consider getting out of law enforcement, and he implored senators for more support and resources — for them and their families.
“I ask you today to lead like Jim would — by defending us, protecting us, caring for us, and validating the work we do,” Andersen said in a statement submitted ahead of Tuesday’s hearing. “As law-enforcement officers, we talk about holding the line, the thin blue line. Serving and protecting those in need. We need our families, our friends, our communities, and our nation’s leaders to have our back as we fight to hold that line. Because without that support, the line cannot be held.”
Smith’s widow, Kathy, also submitted written testimony honoring her late husband and calling for more support for law enforcement officers. In part, she writes:
“I write this letter urging you to take steps to protect our law enforcement against attacks on their lives. These men and women in blue made a promise to serve and protect the people in our communities while facing the risk of paying the ultimate sacrifice. They do so willingly and with great courage each and every day. My husband had a love for justice and was one of the many who swore to protect others. He, along with many others, ended up giving his life for the sake of Justice. It is in honor of him and the fallen heroes that I plead with you to do something to help prevent future losses of our law enforcement officers.”
Grassley said incidents like these are increasing nationwide.
Read Sen. Grassley’s entire prepared statement
“Thank you, Chairman Durbin, for holding this important hearing. I requested the hearing, and I appreciate it.
Attacks on police officers are rising across the country. We see news stories on a regular basis about ambush attacks and murders of law enforcement in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Even my home state of Iowa has not escaped this violence.
Nationwide, 73 officers were intentionally killed last year, the highest number since the 9/11 attacks. That’s a 59 percent increase from the previous year. 133 officers were shot in ambush style attacks, an increase of one hundred and 23 percent over the previous year.
The most recent data shows that violent crime is rising across the country, but violence against police officers is up even higher. This is a unique and critical problem.
I’d like to recognize one of my guests here today. Officer Zach Andersen was a deputy in Grundy County last year when Sergeant Jim Smith of the Iowa State Patrol was murdered in an ambush attack. He was with Sergeant Smith when the murder happened. I previously spoke in honor of Sergeant Smith’s memory.
It breaks my heart to hear stories like this come out of Iowa, but there’re sadly many such stories around the country.
Every death of an officer killed in the line of duty is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for the officer who sacrificed his or her life. It’s a tragedy for the family and friends left behind. It’s a tragedy for the community that lost a public servant. And it’s a tragedy for all of us who rely on these brave men and women to keep us safe.
There’s another disturbing trend that goes hand in hand with the rise in attacks on police. We see more criminals resisting or fleeing arrest, more disrespect and demonizing of law enforcement, and a general atmosphere of hostility towards the people in uniform who put their lives on the line to protect us.
This is a growing crisis, and there’s much that Congress needs to do to help address it.
One of the challenges is a lack of data. While the government collects basic data on attacks against police that result in serious injury or death, we don’t have much data on the contributing factors. We also don’t have good data on attacks against police that don’t result in death and serious injury.
For this reason, I introduced the Improving Law Enforcement Officer Safety and Wellness Through Data Act. This bill will help expand our understanding of these attacks to better identify motives, trends and any coordinated efforts to target those officers who put on the badge to keep our communities safe.
I worked with police groups including Major County Sheriffs of America and the National Association of Police Organizations to identify gaps in reporting. Senators Luján, Tillis, Hassan, and Cassidy are original cosponsors of this bipartisan bill.
There are several bills proposed by members of this Committee that would make it a federal crime to attack law enforcement, and that would enhance penalties for doing so. Senators Cornyn, Tillis, and Cotton have sponsored these bills.
A main cause of this violence against police is the demonization and disrespect shown to the profession of law enforcement throughout the country. When you allow hatred of a group to spread, people find it easy to justify violent attacks against them.
Kathy Smith, the wife of the late Sergeant Smith, sent us a letter that I’d like to introduce into the record. She tells us about what a wonderful and self-sacrificing man he was, but also that over the past 6 to 8 years, he told her that officers have been treated with more hostility.
She writes that during the riots: “My husband stood with his tactical team protecting the state capital in Iowa and had frozen water bottles and rocks thrown at them. Protesters spit and insulted them for hours at a time.”
I held a roundtable with Iowa law enforcement a couple of months ago, and one theme that I heard constantly is officer recruitment and retention. There aren’t enough police officers to go around. There are not enough young people joining the profession. Most new hires they’re seeing come from other law enforcement offices.
The question that comes up is how we can ask young people to join a profession if we do not take care of them. How can we ask them to protect us if we don’t protect them? And if we don’t have enough officers, we can only expect to see other violent crimes get worse and worse.
Kathy Smith’s message to us here today is this: “You can allow culture’s diminishing respect and police’s lack of protection to continue down this dark path, permitting more families to face the same shattered fate as ours… or you can do something about it. You can listen to the problems we have, develop a plan to fix them, and save the lives of our officers.”
I agree with her, and I hope this hearing will help to examine all the aspects of this crisis for police and how we can help protect them.
Before I close, I would also like to introduce a letter from the National Association of Police Organizations to this committee, and also a report from the Fraternal Order of Police, both of whom care deeply about this issue.
Thank you to our witnesses for appearing today. We look forward to hearing from you.”
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