Harming a police officer is already a crime under federal law, and all 50 states have laws that enhance penalties for doing so.
a new bill modeled after a federal hate crime statute would make it a
crime to intentionally target a law enforcement officer based on his
"actual or perceived status" as one.
and Democrat sponsors of The Protect and Serve Act say its goal is to
protect law enforcement officers from ambushes and violence for simply
being a police officer. Opponents of the bill, introduced Tuesday, say
its language effectively designates any violence against officers a
federal hate crime and perpetuates a false narrative of a "war on
"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," Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said in a statement
"These heinous, cowardly assaults are an attack not just on law
enforcement, but on the rule of law." Hatch's office did not respond to
requests for comment over criticism of the bill.
bill has the support of major law enforcement groups including the
Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations
and the National Sheriffs' Association, who say law enforcement is
facing increased attacks. The bill's sponsors cite a Department of
on police ambushes, which shows a downward trend through the 1990s and
2000s until the late 2000s and early 2010s, when the numbers trended
slightly higher, according to the report.
bill is critical, as there is a serious and growing trend of armed
attacks on law enforcement officers," said William J. Johnson, executive
director of the National Association of Police Organizations.
has long been fighting to establish stricter penalties for those who
harm or target for harm law enforcement officers. NAPO strongly believes
that increased penalties make important differences in the attitudes of
criminals toward public safety officers, and ensure protection for the
Two versions of the bill were introduced Tuesday in the House
and Senate. Each includes a maximum sentence of 10 years for causing
serious bodily injury and a potential life sentence for killing or
trying to kill an officer. The Senate version includes the specific
provision that makes it a crime to knowingly cause bodily injury or
attempt to do so "because of the actual or perceived status of the
person as a law enforcement officer."
Its sponsors said in a press release
that the proposal is modeled after the federal hate crime law named for murder victims Matthew Shepard
, who was targeted for being gay, and James Byrd Jr.
, who was killed for being black. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act
makes it a federal crime to willfully cause bodily injury to someone
because of the victim's "actual or perceived" race, color, religion,
gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
of the Protect and Serve Act, including the American Civil Liberties
Union, Human Rights Watch, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human
Rights, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called on the
Senate to oppose the bill.
organizations said the bill wrongly extends hate crimes protections to a
group that does not need them because they are not vulnerable to bias
or discrimination in the same manner as people of color and other
historically marginalized communities. And they called it superfluous in
light of existing federal and state laws.
crime protections are intended to aid prosecution of crimes that are
historically under-charged and are typically enacted when law
enforcement or prosecutors lack the will, capacity, or legal remedies to
prosecute offenses committed against certain individuals or groups,"
the organizations said in an open letter
is no record to suggest that prosecutors are unwilling or unable to
charge individuals with crimes against law enforcement. In fact, crimes
against police officers are treated as among the most heinous criminal
acts, given the high degree of culpability and punishment attached to
In a time of
increased scrutiny of officer-involved shootings of people of color, the
groups warned that the bill could further erode relations.
than focusing on policies that address issues of police excessive
force, biased policing, and other police practices that have failed
these communities, the Protect and Serve Act's aim is to further
criminalize," the letter said, expressing concern that the measure
"ultimately threatens public safety and undermines the work of law