WASHINGTON, D.C.. — Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., introduced a bill in Congress that would make it a hate crime to target a police officer.
Buck filed the measure Wednesday, he said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. The bill, dubbed the Blue Lives Matter Act of 2016, would expand the federal hate crime statute to include law enforcement officers who are targeted for acts of violence because of their jobs.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 25 years before I started in this job,” the Windsor Republican said. “I’ve seen over and over both police officers on the street and federal agents, jail deputies and bureau of prison officials being threatened by very dangerous people. I have a passion for trying to protect those who protect us. That’s what this bill is about.”
Buck said if it were to become law, the act would provide federal prosecutors an extra measure of authority in cases such as the December 2014 ambush-style killing of two New York police officers, for example. It would work the same way as existing hate-crime laws do which allow federal prosecutors to bring additional charges in cases in which victims are targeted for violent crime because of their background.
The measure comes at a time when cases of attacks on police officers — and deadly use of force by officers — have made shocking headlines across the country. It’s also a time when many officers feel under attack from those who blame all officers for the actions of a few.
“This helps to stem that tide,” Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams said, noting he hadn’t seen the bill but had spoken to Buck about it. “It shows that there are some legislators who are behind our efforts as law enforcement officers and understand that the job we do is a dangerous one at times.”
Reams said while he supports the bill, it’s unfortunate hate-crime statutes have to exist at all.
“When you talk about hate crime legislation, that’s always kind of a tough area,” he said. “What makes the assault, or the murder, of a person of a specific background any more or less heinous than someone who doesn’t fit into one of those categories?”
Evans Police Chief Rick Brandt is the president of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. He said he hadn’t seen the bill and didn’t know the details, but at first blush, it seemed like a good idea.
“It’s an affront to society, I think, when police officers are targeted — randomly targeted — for ambush,” he said.
Last year, 124 officers were killed in the line of duty, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks police deaths nationwide. That total is among the five lowest in the past 20 years. The lowest in the past two decades came in 2013, when 107 officers were killed. In 2014, 117 officers lost their lives in the line of duty. Of the 2015 deaths, 52 died as the result of criminal activity.
Buck spokesman Kyle Huwa said he didn’t know how many of the 2015 deaths might have qualified for hate crime prosecution had the law been in place, but he pointed out ambush style-attacks often have hate as a motivation. In 2015, there were six such killings of officers and 15 the year before, according to National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund data.
“The question is whether or not a police officer is really appropriately covered by such a statute, especially when there are many laws that severely penalize violence against police officers already,” he said.
Still, he pointed out, Buck made use of bias-motivated statues as a prosecutor. As the Weld District Attorney, he successfully prosecuted Allen Andrade in 2009 under a bias-motivated crime statute for the murder of Angie Zapata, a transgender woman.
“With that said, I think that Ken Buck is probably going to run into more problems with this in his own party, legitimizing the concept of biased-motivated crimes at all,” Franklin said. “As you know many conservatives are wholly opposed to that in theory.”
Buck said he doesn’t know who might oppose the bill, but he noted even on Wednesday as he walked to the House floor to file it, several Republicans — Reps. Trey Gowdy, Pete Sessions, Jason Chaffetz, and John Ratcliffe — asked to be added as co-sponsors.
“I haven’t walked down the Democrat aisle yet,” Buck said. “We’ll see. I can’t imagine anyone would be opposed to protecting police officers.”