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‘Protect and Serve Act’ would treat the targeting of police officers like a federal hate crime

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U.S. lawmakers introduced a new bill this week to create added protections for police officers by making attacks on law enforcement officers a federal hate crime.

The bipartisan bill is a joint effort between Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and, according to a news release, "would make targeted attacks against state and local law enforcement a new federal crime."

The bill was introduced in both the Senate and the House on Tuesday.

Those convicted on charges of murdering or kidnapping a law enforcement officer could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. Those convicted of making such attempts could face up to 10 years in prison.

The proposed legislation would make it a "federal crime to knowingly cause bodily injury to any person, or attempt to do so, because of the actual or perceived status of the person as a law enforcement officer."

What is Hatch saying about this bill?

According to a release, Hatch said that Americans are "indebted to [law enforcement] for their sacrifices and their service to our communities, which is why we must do all that we can to protect them."

"They know the risks, but what no law enforcement officer signs up for is to be violently ambushed simply for being a police officer," Hatch added. "These heinous, cowardly assaults are an attack not just on law enforcement, but on the rule of law.  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."

What is Heitkamp saying about this bill?

In the same news release, Heitkamp said, "We should honor [law enforcement's] service by doing everything we can to protect them, and we must address targeted violence toward peace officers across the country."

She added:

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. Our peace officers walk out the door every day not knowing what awaits them during the next shift — we must make sure that all of our officers know that we have their back when they report for duty to keep our communities strong and safe.

What are others saying?

William J. Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said, "This bill is critical, as there is a serious and growing trend of armed attacks on law enforcement officers."

However, some civil rights groups are hitting back at the proposed legislation, noting that there is no such thing as a "war on police."

Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Human Rights Watch — among others — are calling for the bill to be struck down.

Several of these groups, in a statement, said, "Extending hate crimes protections to law enforcement officers is a profoundly inappropriate and misguided proposal for several reasons" because "police already have substantial protections under federal and state law, rendering this bill superfluous."

Also, the groups say that hate crime laws are "intended to extend protection to historically persecuted groups that have experienced a history of systemic discrimination based on a personal characteristics, such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability."

"Law enforcement officers are not a historically persecuted group," the statement continued.

"This bill signals that there is a 'war on police,' which is not only untrue, but an unhelpful and dangerous narrative to uplift," the statement added.

The groups' statement also noted that "divisive" bills of this type — "so-called 'Blue Lives Matter' bills" — only appear to be a "political response" to the civil rights' groups push for police accountability "in the face of continued killings and assaults of unarmed African-Americans."

The statement also warned that should this bill be passed, it will have a "negative impact" on relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

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