The Legislative Process: Law Enforcement's Role

By Whitehead, Johnny C. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 1993 | Go to article overview
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The Legislative Process: Law Enforcement's Role

Whitehead, Johnny C., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Lawmakers at all levels of government introduce and pass legislation that significantly impacts on law enforcement operations. At times, these well-meaning politicians fail to realize the residual effects of their actions. As a result, legislation that is either difficult to enforce or detrimental to law enforcement becomes law. Law enforcement's reaction at this point becomes one of disbelief, panic, or both.

This does not, however, have to be the case. Law enforcement agencies can avoid such nightmares by monitoring legislation before it becomes law and by working actively with lawmakers to educate them on the nature of law enforcement. This article shows ways in which agencies can accomplish these critical tasks and provides various strategies for influencing future legislation.


Traditionally, law enforcement officials stood on the sidelines while politicians proposed legislation and passed laws that seriously affected police operations. In the Baltimore County, Maryland, Police Department, however, police administrators eventually realized that active involvement in the legislative process would allow them to voice the needs of the department and keep the problem from perpetuating itself.

For this reason, they initiated a legislative program that allows the department to take a "watchdog stance" to ensure that proposed legislation serves law enforcement's best interests. The program is also a source of information for legislators who, for the most part, are unaware or ill-informed of law enforcement's mission and constraints.


To be the legislative program, two Baltimore County police officers were chosen to serve as legislative liaisons for 3 months during Maryland's annual legislative session. After several sessions, the officers' efforts showed signs of success. By establishing liaison with Maryland lawmakers, they were able to influence the voting on inadequate or unenforceable legislation.

At the same time, these officers found active supporters among the legislators, which added a new dimension to the original concept. The legislative liaison officers began networking with elected officials to develop legislation that would benefit the community at large. Because of the successes realized, a police officer now serves year round as a full-time legislative liaison officer.


Agencies in other jurisdictions support similar formal legislative programs. In Maryland, sworn officers of the Baltimore City Police Department and the State police monitor legislation full time. The Legislative Affairs Unit of the New York City Police Department works with the mayor's office, and the Denver, Colorado, Police Department operates a Legislative Unit within its Public Information Office.

What has occurred in many areas of the country, either locally or statewide, has also spread to the national level. For example, in 1985, five law enforcement associations(1) united to form the Law Enforcement Steering Committee Against S-49 to oppose firearms legislation then pending in the U.S. Senate. This legislation, known as the McClure-Volkmer Act, would have made it easier to gain access to handguns.

The committee drafted and successfully worked for the adoption of several amendments to the bill to minimize its negative impact. It was also instrumental in influencing the manufacture and sale of armor-piercing ammunition, better known as "cop killer bullets."

During the past 8 years, this group, now known as the Law Enforcement Steering Committee (LESC), expanded to include law enforcement research organizations and police management and labor groups representing over 400,000 police practitioners.(2) It has supported such issues as assets forfeiture, State and local government funding, soft body armor, firearms legislation, and comprehensive crime bills.


Once a police department adopts a position on proposed legislation, a number of approaches can be taken to promote that position.

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