While many police officers know the potential dangers they face in their line of work, the Wisconsin Legislature has proposed a new bill that would increase protections for law enforcement officers.
The new bill, dubbed the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, would add law enforcement officers to the categories of people who can be victims of hate crimes. Despite receiving bipartisan support, the bill has been criticized across party lines as well.
A hate crime is currently defined as a crime against someone motivated by a person’s race, religion, nation of origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability, author of the bill Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, said.
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Legislation similar to this bill have been passed in dozens of states, including Louisiana and Kentucky this year.
Steffen said a national increase in “ambush-style shootings” of police officers last year prompted him to introduce the piece of legislation.
“That for me is a clear message that there’s something that’s going on that needs to be addressed within our community, within our society,” Steffen said. “These individuals wake up every single day to protect and serve us … this is not as simple as a uniform for them. It’s integral to their identity, to who they are.”
Grant County Deputy Adam Day described an incident in an April 4 hearing for the bill where he was attacked by a man who had a negative experience with law enforcement. Day suffered minor injuries from the incident.
The bill has faced multiple points of criticism from Assembly members and community organizations.
Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, said in a statement he appreciates the people in law enforcement, but does not think this bill ensures the safety of those people.
“Elevating an occupation to the same level of protection as a race, religion, color or disability is unconscionable and a step in the wrong direction,” Crowley said. “We should be focusing on improving community and police relations which actually would make everyone in our community safer, including law enforcement officers.”
American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Interim Executive Director Molly Collins said in a statement it is tragic 64 police officers were killed by guns in 2016, but this does not prove there is any war on police.
Making the claim that there is a war on police does not do anyone good, Collins said.
“A more useful approach would be creating a better working environment for police officers through building community partnership and trust,” Collins said. “Community trust requires police department transparency and accountability and ensuring that people in all communities receive fair and equitable policing services.”
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Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said the bill fails to actually protect law enforcement before harm comes to them.
Making communities safer for both officers and the public is a more effective approach to the issue, Taylor said.
“I don’t think anybody is against a penalty enhancer when a law enforcement officer is killed,” Taylor said. “But really, the question is, how do you stop officers from being killed in the first place? That’s what our focus should be and that bill doesn’t do a thing.”
A Senate vote on the bill has not yet been scheduled.