The political climate in the United States has recently been tense after the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Everyone is on edge, and the potential for violence to occur is on everyone’s mind. In times like these, it often difficult to propose a plan of action to address the violence problem and still be just to everyone. This is the case with law enforcement, as there has been much recent controversy surrounding police brutality. Without an incredibly nuanced approach, there could be catastrophic consequences.
Following the recent deaths of two Florida police officers and the shooting of two more, lawmakers are considering expanding protections and handing down harsher penalties for those that assault police officers. They plan to do this by adding law enforcement and emergency response personnel to the protected classes of race, religion, and sexual orientation under hate crime laws. This would mean that even off-duty officers would be protected, and this new classification would protect anyone that the perpetrator of the crime even thinks is a police officer, whether it is true or not. The Florida Police Benevolence Association is advocating for this change, citing the current political climate and increased aggression towards law enforcement as reasons for the push. The FPBA states that any move to discourage someone from assaulting a peace officer is a positive change. However, according to The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, this change should not be necessary because increased punishments already exist for those who commit violence against police officers. Any crime committed against law enforcement automatically gets bumped up one level regarding the seriousness of the offense. In fact, similar legislation to include law enforcement under hate crime laws was already proposed in Florida earlier this year, and it was backed by The Florida Sheriff’s Association. That bill was never even heard by a committee, so it is likely this similar bill will die as well.
There are some problems with including law enforcement and emergency personnel under hate crime laws. Would other careers be added to this? What about members of the military? There are branches of criminal defense in Florida that help service members in the event they run into legal trouble, for instance, the Flaherty Defense Firm that was found via a simple Google search, but what if a service member is assaulted by someone who dislikes the military? If we begin to include some occupational choices under the hate crime statute, it is only fair to include all of them. A lawyer in the above article aptly asks, “Are construction workers next?”
The possibility may exist that there is no clear cut way for the government to address violence against police officers. Aside from harsher penalties, which already exist, the police departments could take more precautions to keep themselves safe while also ensuring the protection of the citizens they serve. Putting law enforcement on the same list as those who experience real discrimination every single day is likely not the correct solution, especially when becoming a police officer is a clear choice.