Legislators aim to punish attacks on officers more aggressively

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Making attacks on even off-duty police officers a hate crime is the goal of legislation proposed by state senator Jim Merritt.

The law would create stiffer penalties for people who target public safety officers, even when they’re not acting in their official capacity. That includes firefighters, EMTs, police, conservation and correction officers. Those penalties would also be in place if the perpetrator targets an officer’s family because of the uniform they wear.

“This has to be the top five most important pieces of legislation next year,” said Merritt. “And we’re talking about a budget year.”

People who attack on-duty public safety officers already face stiffer penalties under Indiana law. This legislation, advocates hope, will act as a deterrent for future attacks.

“Unfortunately this is a new day for law enforcement in our country,” said Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police president Rick Snyder. “However, it is here and we have to respond and our elected officials have to respond as well.”

Just one week ago, Snyder called on state lawmakers to craft this kind of legislation as soon as possible. When questioned though, Merritt admitted that finding language that doesn’t unfairly punish people who don’t know they’re harming a police office, won’t be easy.

“Yes, it’s difficult,” said Merritt. “It’s a challenge. But these heroes that we have in public safety play such a role that we will iron it out and we will make it commonsensical. “

Not everyone is excited about the legislation.

After the announcement, some people on social media expressed concerns that this proposed law takes the spotlight away from the conversation about police brutality. They say lawmakers don’t seem to be showing they care equally about that issue.

While Merritt works to get the bill passed next year, Snyder is working on what can be done in the here and now.

“In the interim, what we’re hoping to see is local communities, much like Indianapolis, where we have asked for our local, elected officials—our council and our mayor—to move forward on emergency funding for specialized equipment needs for our officers,” said Snyder.

The equipment—bulletproof vests, Kevlar helmets, trauma kits and non-lethal weapons—would cost more than $3 million.

Snyder knows his request is costly, but feels it’s worth it.

“The priority is there,” says Snyder. “The timing is right and our officers really need that help and support.”

Snyder hopes to have something moving forward with city and county elected officials with a month.