It’s National Police Week, and law enforcement officers across the nation are participating in events to honor those killed in the line of duty, like Massachusetts Officer Sean Collier.
Sean Collier was a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was on duty the night of April 18, 2013. At about 10:30 p.m., the two suspects responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings shot Collier near MIT’s Stata Center. Collier was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The night of Collier's murder was traumatic for colleagues like MIT Police Capt. Andrew Turco. For Turco, processing the violent death of his friend was difficult.
Turco was traveling when he found out his friend and colleague had been killed. After receiving the news, Turco and his girlfriend (now fiancée) hurried to the airport. The gravity of the news hit him while explaining the situation to the booking agent.
"When someone you know becomes a household name for a terrible reason overnight, that's when you realize, you know, so I had to walk away and collect myself," he said.
As the MIT community reeled from the tragedy, the MIT Police Department filed paperwork for Collier and his family. The department was shocked when they received a letter denying Collier death benefits.
Becker College Police Chief David Bousquet explained that the federal government provides death benefits to families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty through the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits. PSOB enables families of sworn police officers employed by public colleges and universities eligibility of death benefits.
"If you work at a private college or university in the state of Massachusetts and you were unfortunately killed in the line of duty, currently you are not eligible for those federal death benefits," said Bousquet. "So it’s all about fairness and equity."
The Sean Collier Campus Police Recognition Act was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives after Collier’s death by former Congressman Michael Capuano. The bill amends the 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, which provides death benefits to campus police officers. The current law does not grant sworn officers employed by private colleges and universities death benefits.
The bill would expand eligibility for federal death benefits to families of sworn officers killed on duty who are employed by private colleges and universities.
"It’s kind of ridiculous that it’s not already a thing," said Christopher Fincher, a graduate student at MIT. "I didn’t know that was already not how it worked. Yeah, I think it would be great if it passed."
The Sean Collier Act was re-introduced early this year by Congressman Peter King to the House Judiciary Committee. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, called for passage of the bill.
“Sean was a hero, and he and every police officer on college campuses nationwide who sacrifice their lives to protect their communities deserve the support and commitment of the American people," Moulton said in a statement. "Congress should pass the Sean Collier Act without delay.”
As of March 25, the bill had been referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Since the bill’s introduction, police officers in the Commonwealth like officers Bousquet and Turco have attended meetings with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to gain support and momentum for the bill.
"What it’s going to give is a peace of mind to families, especially when their loved ones work in higher ed law enforcement on a private college campus or university," said Bousquet. "It’s going to give them peace of mind when they go to work. God forbid, but if they have to give that ultimate sacrifice, their families are going to get that death benefit."
As Turco and other fellow officers attend events for Police Week, the MIT Police Department and other local law enforcement officers are optimistic for the bill to pass this year with bipartisan support.
"Sean's presence on this campus has improved my life and showed me that you can be a police officer and really, really have an impact," said Turco.