Texas' GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. (AP)
(CNSNews.com)-- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, last week proposed the Police Protection Act to make assaulting law enforcement officers a hate crime and to increase the penalties for offenders to protect cops in the wake of the July 7 shooting that killed five Dallas police officers and wounded 11 people.
“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the state will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” said Governor Abbott, according to a statement released by his office.
The bill will “extend hate crime protections to law enforcement officers; increase criminal penalties for any crime in which the victim is a law enforcement officer, whether or not the crime qualifies as a hate crime; [and] create a culture of respect for law enforcement by organizing a campaign to educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities,” the statement said.
Under current legislation, attacking a law enforcement officer and causing injury is a 3rd degree felony, punishable by imprisonment for two-to-10 years and possibly also a fine of up to $10,000, according to the current Texas penal code.
The Police Protection Act would make such an attack a second degree felony, increasing the maximum possible prison sentence to 20 years while retaining the $10,000 possible fine.
Texas police organizations praised the governor’s effort to protect their officers.
"We applaud Governor Abbott for recognizing the importance of protecting law enforcement officers in the state of Texas. False narratives and irresponsible anti-police rhetoric have put our officers in greater danger than ever before. This is an important step toward protecting those who protect the citizens of this great state,” said Texas Municipal Police Association Executive Director Kevin Lawrence in an email to CNSNews.com.
Dallas police officers. (AP)
“We support the governor’s decision to make this a law, to present it to the legislature. We’re happy that they’re acknowledging that people are out there attacking police officers simply because they wear the uniform,” Houston Police Officers Union Vice President Joe Gamaldi told CNSNews.com.
“You can never tell when somebody may take something into their own hands and decide to attack someone just because they’re a police officer,” said Gamaldi. “So I certainly hope that it helps, it might give someone a second thought before they attack a police officer for no reason other than them wearing the uniform.”
However, Wake Forest University Criminal Justice Program Director and Professor of Law Kami N. Chavis called the effort “misguided,” telling CNSNews.com the Police Protection Act undermines the definition of a hate crime.
“Traditionally, hate crimes are crimes where the perpetrator has targeted the victim because of their membership in a protected group, and these protected groups have always been, of course, race, religion, and now, the expansion in recent years to include gender identity and sexual orientation,” she said.
“Race is different than occupation,” Chavis said. “Your race, your gender, all of these are immutable characteristics. You are born being a certain race or even gender identity. An occupation is something you choose to do.”
“A better way to show our support would be to raise salaries and increase benefits, and provide better professional opportunities and mental health services that are lacking for our officers,” she concluded.
The Texas state legislature will vote on the bill during their 2017 session.