The city of Cambridge passed a resolution Monday night that supports a national push to consider attacks on police officers as hate crimes – the second local government in Minnesota to do so.
The resolution (read it here on page 102) is in response to increased criticism and violence against police officers around the country in recent years.
Among other things, the measure calls on the federal government to "expand federal hate crimes law to protect police." It doesn't actually change the current law – it's just approving formal support for the movement.
Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk told KARE 11 the federal government determines what is and isn't a hate crime, but he added that he appreciates the message behind the city council's action.
Red Wing takes a step back
The city of Red Wing was the first in the state to act on the issue when it approved basically the same resolution earlier this month.
But just a week later, the Red Wing City Council voted to unanimously to reconsider that resolution, according to MPR News, citing negative feedback it had received about the issue.
Red Wing Mayor Dan Bender said the passage of the resolution was dividing the city.
“Our really well-meant support of the Red Wing Police Department might be unintentionally undermining that support in the community,” he said, according to MPR News.
Warren County, Ohio, was the first local government in the nation to pass such a resolution, according to the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) website.
Push to expand federal bias crime laws
The National Fraternal Order of Police is pushing local governments to pass resolutions like these in hopes of putting pressure on state and federal lawmakers to expand bias crime laws in the U.S. to include police officers.
The organization said in a letter to President Barack Obama earlier this year police are being targeted due to their profession. (The last time the federal hate crime law was expanded was in 2009, U.S. News and World Report said.)
Under current law, individuals who are victims of bias crimes – targeted because of their race, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or characteristics identified as sexual orientation – are protected. And those charged with a bias crime are subject to greater penalties, the letter notes.
The current penalty for assaulting an officer is up to a 20-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $30,000, FOX 9 reports.
Is it necessary?
But some experts are skeptical about FOP’s push. They wonder if the protection is necessary or if adding police officers to the classes protected by law would actually change how they’re treated, U.S. News and World Report said.
“There isn’t really any need to add police officers to hate-crime legislation and I don’t think it makes sense. I think it’s contrary to the concept of what a hate crime is,” Steve Freeman, the director of legal affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, told U.S. News and World Report.
And Chuck Samuelson, the head of the ACLU in Minnesota, notes that anyone who attacks a law enforcement officer already faces enhanced penalties, "so what they're asking for already exists,” according to FOX 9.
The National Fraternal Order of Police is also pushing for the reauthorization of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, which distributes funding to agencies across the U.S. to purchase bulletproof vests.