After the July attack on law enforcement in Dallas, state officials have begun calling for legislation to enhance protection for those who protect us. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said it will be a legislative priority of his, and one Republican nominee for state representative has vowed to introduce the “Law Enforcement Protection Act.”
The proposals included in the “Law Enforcement Protection Act” or “Police Protection Act” would extend hate crime protections to police and, “increase criminal penalties for any crime in which the victim is a law enforcement officer.” Also included is an effort to change the culture of how some Texans view the police.
Like most issues, there is opposition. Some see this as an emotional knee-jerk reaction to a horrific incident rather than a necessary policy reform.
As such, here is a look at the current state of violence against law enforcement considering a few factors: current laws, rates of violent crimes against police, and what this would mean for “equality under the law.”
In Texas, cop killers already face the harshest sentence the state government can hand out – which alone makes any additional punitive legislation redundant. Killing a peace officer or firefighter is classified as capital murder (or first-degree murder) in Texas, which can be punishable by the death penalty. And Texas easily has the most active capital punishment system, having executed the most inmates of any state.
According to the most recent Texas DPS “Crime in Texas” report, since hitting its peak in 2012 assaults on law enforcement have declined, not increased.
Also, the DPS report shows that the number of officers killed by “felonious assaults” at the time of the report was at its lowest point in years.
On the other hand, reported hate crime incidents have been steadily rising, so there are few reasons to believe that adding an additional protected class into the hate crime category would protect police any more than the laws currently in place.
Aside from the jarring event in Dallas, the numbers show that there isn’t an epidemic of assaults on police officers – despite sensationalist headlines and social media exchanges.
There are other professions that are equally (if not more so) prone to violence – such as taxi drivers. According to a 2015 study, Taxi drivers have the highest murder rate of any profession – nearly twice that of police officers. But there isn’t a current effort to increase the punishment for violence towards them.
A press release from Gov. Abbott on this reform read, “The proposal is punctuated by making it a hate crime for anyone to commit a crime against a law enforcement officer out of bias against the police.” This opens the possibility of any crime in which a law enforcement officer is the victim, to be elevated to a hate crime regardless of intent.
A new law that elevates the lives of some over others is not going to “create a culture of respect for law enforcement,” especially not with those who feel that they are disproportionately affected by law enforcement.
Additionally, hate-crime laws serve a purely punitive function, and do little in regards to actual prevention. This proposal would not have stopped the murderer of Harris County Sheriff Deputy Darren Goforth – nor would it have stopped the terrorist who took the lives of the five Dallas-area law enforcement officers.
To effectively change the culture, officials need to encourage top-down relationships between communities and the officers who police them. A new law will not stop someone who is determined to take the life of an officer. Instilling a healthy, mutually respectful relationship between Texans and law enforcement may serve a greater function by preventing those sentiments from ever taking root.
As to not be misunderstood, we are unabashedly supportive of law enforcement, but legislation like this poses an unintentional risk and does not solve a problem.