Alarmed by a wave of shootings targeting police officers, state Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear) has introduced a bill that would make an attack on law enforcement a hate crime in California, allowing stiffer penalties for those convicted.
Obernolte’s bill comes after a series of shootings that have left 62 law enforcement officers dead so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. That is up from 38 officers shot to death in the line of duty by this time last year.
Just in July, five police officers were killed by a gunman in Dallas, and three more died in a rampage in Baton Rouge, La. The shootings occurred at a time of high tension between law enforcement and some communities over police killings of unarmed people of color.
“Our police officers put their lives on the line every day and it’s deeply disturbing when they are intentionally targeted because of their chosen profession,” Obernolte said Tuesday in a statement. “This law will send a message to criminals targeting law enforcement officers that their reprehensible behavior will not be tolerated.”
Offenses committed because of the victim’s race, religion, disability or sexual orientation may currently be prosecuted as hate crimes in California.
Conviction of a hate crime can result in an additional one to three years in state prison being tacked on to an offender's sentence, depending on the circumstances.
Earlier this year, Louisiana adopted a measure, dubbed the Blue Lives Matter bill, making attacks on police officers a hate crime, and similar proposals are being considered in Texas, New Jersey and Mississippi, as well as in the U.S. Congress, which can change the federal hate crime law.
Some groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have voiced concerns that such laws could dilute the original intent of hate crime measures to protect vulnerable classes of citizens.
There are already sufficient strong penalties available for those who attack police officers, said Kevin Baker, legislative director with the ACLU of California’s Center for Advocacy and Policy.
“Our hate crime statute is simply not the proper home for these offenses,” Baker added. “Peace officer status is an employment category not analogous to the personal characteristics included in our hate crime statute, including disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.”
Updated at 1:20 pm to include comment from ACLU official.