Washington, DC – A bipartisan bill that would make targeting law enforcement officers a federal hate crime was introduced in both the House and the Senate on Tuesday.
The proposed legislation was spearheaded by U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), according to a press release.
“’The Protect and Serve Act of 2018’ makes clear that no criminal will be able to escape justice when he singles out and assaults those who put on the badge every day to keep us safe,” Hatch explained. “These heinous, cowardly assaults are an attack not just on law enforcement, but on the rule of law.”
“Every day, law enforcement officers across the country put their lives on the line to protect us from harm,” he continued. “We are all indebted to them for their sacrifices and their service to our communities, which is why we must do all that we can to protect them.”
Heitkamp said that officers’ service needed to be honored and protected by the citizens they served.
“We must address targeted violence toward peace officers across the country,” she noted. “Our bipartisan bill would make clear that attacks against law enforcement officers based on their role to protect and serve the community will be met with harsh penalties, and that these crimes will be elevated and prioritized.”
Under the proposed legislation, offenders convicted of murdering or kidnapping a law enforcement officer – or who attempted to do so – would face a maximum of life in prison.
Offenders convicted of attempting or causing serious bodily harm to an officer would face a maximum of 10 years.
National Fraternal Order of Police President Chuck Canterbury hailed the legislation on Tuesday, and noted that such action was especially imperative in the wake of increased attacks on police.
“Already this year we have 87 officers shot in the line of duty and 28 of them were killed,” Canterbury said in a press release. “This is 75% higher than this time last year.”
He explained that people “who desire nothing more than to wound or kill an officer” have presented new risks for our nation’s police force.
“Finally, Congress has decided to act,” Canterbury said.
He also hailed Representatives John Rutherford and Val Demings, who introduced the House version of the bill.
Rutherford, a former sheriff, and Demings, a former chief of police, both “know what it means to walk a beat, to make a traffic stop and to look over your shoulder even while you’re on a break,” Canterbury noted. “We are very grateful for their leadership and support.”
National Association of Police Organizations executive director William Johnson echoed Canterbury’s sentiments, and said that the proposed legislation was a “critical” component in working to “establish stricter penalties for those who harm” or “target” police, CNN reported.
“NAPO strongly believes that increased penalties make important differences in the attitudes of criminals toward public safety officers, and ensure protection for the community," Johnson added.
News of the proposed bill was quickly met with opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who issued a joint letter to Senate members on Tuesday.
The groups argued that “extending hate crimes protections” to police officers was “profoundly inappropriate,” “divisive,” and perpetuated “a false narrative that police are under increasing attack.”
“Hate crimes laws are intended to extend protection to historically persecuted groups that have experienced a history of systemic discrimination based on a personal characteristic, such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability,” the joint statement read. “Law enforcement officers are not a historically persecuted group.”
“This bill signals that there is a 'war on police,' which is not only untrue, but an unhelpful and dangerous narrative to uplift,” the groups claimed. “The Protect and Serve Act does not advance any stated policy goals, because law enforcement is not subject to increasing or widespread attacks.”
They also argued that the bill threatened to “exacerbate” the “already discriminatory system of mass incarceration,” presumably by imprisoning people who try to kill police officers.
The legislation could come before the Judiciary Committee later this week, the National Fraternal Order of Police said.