What 2020 meant for federal law enforcement

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2020 was an eventful year for those in law enforcement. At the federal level, illegal border crossings, drug and gun running, smuggling, and counterfeiting, none of those disappeared. Yet those in law enforcement might understandably feel a little less than appreciated. For what federal officers are hoping for this year, Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke to the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Larry Cosme.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Larry, good to have you back.

Larry Cosme: Thanks for having me back Tom. Appreciate it.

Tom Temin: So give us your general impression of what the year was like that we’ve just been through for federal law enforcement, because I think it’s safe to say it has not been a great year for state and especially local and municipal law enforcement.

Larry Cosme: No, it has been a tough year for partners in the state and local law enforcement arena. Overall in law enforcement we’ve lost over 326 due to COVID-19 pandemic. This whole year has been bad for the average citizen. Now with the men and women on the front lines in the federal sector enforcing the laws in the interior United States and on the border locations, it has been difficult because you’re dealing with the pandemic and you’re also dealing with violent crime, and you’re dealing with all sorts of different crime and folks that are trying to smuggle contraband into the United States or any types of narcotics or other illegal things and committing other crimes throughout the interior US. Crime hasn’t stopped because of the pandemic, let’s just say.

Tom Temin: And it sounds like the pandemic was the biggest toll taker on federal law enforcement officers this year more so than gunfire and that kind of thing.

Larry Cosme: Absolutely. We just recently had a member down in the Tampa, Florida area, may he rest in peace, Officer Hickman passed due to the pandemic and we send our condolences to his family and we’ll be attending the services in the coming weeks.

Tom Temin: And what’s your sense of how well recruitment of new officers went, say for border patrol, immigration, customs enforcement, and so on? That was an issue a couple of years back when they were just having trouble filling positions that were open. What’s your sense of what’s going on there?

Larry Cosme: It’s difficult because right now with a pandemic, it’s a pretty much put a roadblock in place, number one, and then the second part is that you hear this defund message, the rallying cry of certain groups, which obviously has diminished now. And I figured that was going to happen right after an election, but it has diminished because most people are thinking like, wait a minute, I’m gonna go work on the front lines, I’m gonna have to deal with pandemic and then I’m gonna have to deal with folks that we believe are unappreciative of them. But I always say, the majority of Americans are more appreciative. And I know from being out on the road and meeting with the average folks that I talked to, because I love to engage folks, that they do support law enforcement. 99.9% of all Americans do support the federal law enforcement officers that I represent. So I’m proud to say that and I’m happy that folks really support us.

Tom Temin: Because the defund the police movement, which happened after some civil unrest, but before that there was a defund or shut down ICE movement. You don’t hear that as much these days, though, do you?

Larry Cosme: No, I mean it’s toned down, and obviously the election is over. But you’re absolutely right. That was way before the defund the police messaging they had that defund ICE. I don’t know what transpired in folks minds thinking about that, because let’s face it, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they’re the lead agency besides US Customs and Border Protection, protecting our ports of entry, that land, sea and air in the interior United States, enforcing the laws that are placed on the books by the folks that are elected at the federal level. Those are the folks that make the laws and the ICE officers and agents are the ones that enforce the laws.

Tom Temin: A retired ICE agent yourself, we should point out, so you have a career there. And what are you hoping for from the next administration as the Biden team comes in and thinks about Border Patrol and the law enforcement issues generally facing the federal government?

Larry Cosme: We’re hoping for the support. And we have been working with them already. I have been working with a transition team, and they’ve been very supportive so far, and we’re working well with them and we’re giving them suggestions on things that should be done and shouldn’t be done. And, and they’re listening. And I’m a very appreciative person that they reached out to us and gave us a seat at the table. And that’s important to the men and women that we represent that we as an organization FLEOA have a seat at the table, and that the incoming administration listens to the ideas that we have. They had been receptive and open to that. So I’m very grateful.

Tom Temin: What are some of the ideas you’ve expressed to them that would help the cause?

Larry Cosme: Basically, working on the pay and benefits issues for all federal law enforcement overall, and that’s important. I also want them to work with OPM in making sure that the pay cap, because due to the pandemic, there have been obviously effects on the pay cap. And that’s an issue that we need to address with OPM instead of legislatively, now we just had on the CARES Act, they passed legislation that would waive the pay cap for US Secret Service agents so that that way, when they’re on a protective mission or investigative mission, they don’t get hurt in terms of their pay and benefits. So that’s something we work with Congress who’s just passed, stuff was extended all the way through the end of 2021.

Tom Temin: And what are you hearing from the southern border particularly because that comes and goes in the news depending on what else the media is reporting on. But the steady flow of people coming into the country legally and illegally never seems to let up, does it?

Larry Cosme: No, absolutely not. I’m a veteran of ICE like you said in the Division of Homeland Security Investigations as a special agent. And in my career even before DHS was created, I was on the Department of Justice, and it never let up. And that was almost 30 years ago. Besides the human elements of people being smuggled in or trafficked into the United States, it’s also the narcotics smuggling and illegal contraband and that’s detrimental to our country. And I think it’s important that we need to stay focused on that and protecting our country.

Tom Temin: And getting back to some of the pay and benefits issue. locality pay can be an issue because officers aren’t necessarily at the top end of the Federal scale, yet they get assigned to places that can be high cost living areas on the east and west coasts, for example.

Larry Cosme: No, absolutely. It’s not uncommon for a new agent or officer to be sent to a location like San Francisco, New York City, Miami and Washington, DC, which is a high locality pay area. The new administration should direct OPM to make sure that they review that so that these officers and agents when they’re going to live in those areas that can live a decent life and survive, because in those areas, very expensive just on housing, nevermind the food component of your budget. That’s something that the new administration needs to consider, and making sure that the federal employees are all taken care of.

Tom Temin: Alright, and looking ahead, 2021, 2, 3, 4, what’s your message to would be members of federal law enforcement on why it’s a good career?

Larry Cosme: It’s a great career, it’s rewarding. It’s like I always tell the men and women that are considering coming into the federal law enforcement arena, you’re not going to get rich, if you’re looking to get rich and being a federal employee or working federal law enforcement, this is certainly not the job for you. If you’re looking to work nine to five bankers hours, this is not the job for you. So if you’re not considering the ability to travel, and now obviously, the components of the pandemic, this is not the job for you. But if you’re okay with those elements, then it’s a rewarding job. You see the satisfaction when you rescue individuals that have been trafficked. In my case, I’ve worked cases that where individuals were victims of human trafficking, and sexual exploitation of children. And when you rescue those individuals, that’s the satisfaction that you get as a human being. And you say, Oh, my God, I can’t believe that this is even happening in our country. And that’s a good feeling. And you’re doing right by our country, and you’re doing right by the people that we represent because ultimately, that’s what we do. When we take an oath of office, we not only do we uphold the Constitution, we represent the people that basically bear salaries as taxpayers.

Tom Temin: And we should point out to that it’s a very varied career. I mean, everything from people supporting inspectors general, as you mentioned, Homeland Security Investigations. It’s not all carrying a weapon on the front line. That’s part of it but that’s only a part of the entire career that comes under that rubric of law enforcement.

Larry Cosme: Yes, on the federal law enforcement, you have many different divisions. You have the Office of Inspector Generals, you have the DHS components, you have the Department of Justice components, you have the FBI, DEA, ATF, you have so many federal agencies. I remember when I got into federal law enforcement, I was like, wow, I didn’t believe there were 65 different federal law enforcement components within the United States government. You just need to look at it and dig deep and then you will see that there is a component within each division of the US government even you have the Secret Service uniform division, the Secret Service as special agents. You have all different components of the US government. Absolutely.

Tom Temin: I used to work near Union Station and I think sometimes 63 of them had vehicles parked around there at a given time. Larry Cosme is president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, FLEOA. Thanks so much for joining me.

Larry Cosme: Thank you Tom for having me back on. I look forward to being back on the near future again, and Happy New Year to everyone.

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