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Officers gather for National Police Week

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Police officers are in Washington, D.C., for an annual gathering to honor those who died in the line of duty. National Police Week is underway at a time when controversies around policing in America are complicated and contentious. There's a rise in violent crime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reported a 35% increase in gun-related homicides in 2020. There is also a push for police reform, following historic protests for racial justice after the murder of George Floyd.

Representative Val Demings of Florida was a police officer for nearly three decades and was the first Black woman chief of police in Orlando. She's also a Democratic candidate for senator from Florida this year. Representative Demings, thanks so much for being with us.

VAL DEMINGS: Thank you so much for inviting me.

SIMON: What does it mean to honor fallen officers, especially at a time when policing is fraught in so many communities?

DEMINGS: Well, let me say this. I have, unfortunately - I'll say it that way - attended many law enforcement memorial ceremonies through the decades. This year, we will call the names of 617 officers who have lost their lives, over 400 of them through COVID, 62 of them through gunfire. The bottom line is, we give honor to whom honor is due, and we gather in our nation's capital to recognize the men and women in blue from all over the country who keep us safe.

SIMON: Representative Demings, why do you think so many police officers are apparently leaving the profession? It's getting hard in major cities to recruit police officers. How do you get a new generation, particularly people from marginalized communities?

DEMINGS: Well, let me say this. As an African American female, you know, my father wasn't a police officer. My grandfather wasn't a police officer. I did not go looking for the Orlando Police Department. They came to Jacksonville looking for me and others like me, to have the diversity on the departments that we so desperately needed. We have to just get smarter, better utilize technology, and we need the support of communities to help us in those efforts. So we have to continue to recruit hard.

SIMON: You mentioned, of course, support from the community. Do you believe that social services should have more government support, more taxpayer money, and police agencies less?

DEMINGS: No, I certainly do not. As a police chief, look; every year my budget increased. The former chief of Dallas, David Brown...

SIMON: He's the chief in Chicago now.

DEMINGS: He's the commissioner in Chicago now. But this is what he said, Scott, on a day that he had five police officers assassinated in Dallas. He said, every time there is a societal failure, we call the police to solve it. Not enough mental health funding available, give it to the police. Not enough drug addiction funding available, give it to the police. No. We certainly need to fund police departments so we can keep people safe.

SIMON: Representative Demings, let me ask you something based on your wide range of experience. What do you think of no-knock warrants?

DEMINGS: What I can tell you - no-knock warrants are extremely dangerous. They are dangerous for the law enforcement officers. They're dangerous for the people who might be on the other side of the door. There will be time, Scott, that we will need to enter quickly for the preservation of life. But no, no-knock warrants should not be utilized in the case of property crimes, not utilized in the case of drug crimes. We need to be very, very careful about when we utilize no-knock warrants.

SIMON: Let me ask you one last question, Representative Demings, because, of course, there was violence aimed at police on January 6 at the U.S. Capitol. What do you think of the House Select Committee subpoenaing five of your colleagues who are Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy?

DEMINGS: Scott, as someone who served 27 years as a law enforcement officer and supervised hundreds of police officers, every officer, including the police chief, was required to respond to a subpoena. I would hope that my colleagues would not believe that they are somehow above the law. Look; I was in the Capitol on January 6. Lives were lost. Now, doggone it, the people accountable for that should be held accountable. And I would expect my colleagues, those colleagues who provide oversight, help us to get the information that we need as a body to hold those responsible accountable.

SIMON: Representative Val Demings, Democrat of Florida - thanks so much for being with us, Representative.

DEMINGS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.