Abbott Seeks Stiffer Penalties for Crimes Against Police

Saying he was fed up with violence against police, Governor Greg Abbott vowed Monday to exact harsher justice on those who target law enforcement officers. 

Eleven days after one gunman ambushed and killed five Dallas police officers and another killed three more cops in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday, Abbott said his proposal would classify crimes committed against a law enforcement officer “out of bias against the police” a hate crime.

Abbott urged state legislators to enact his Police Protection Act when they return to Austin next year.

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott, who is still recovering from mysterious burns to his lower body, said in a statement.

The new law, Abbott said, would also increase penalties for any crimes against police, regardless of bias, and would create a “culture of respect” for police through a campaign to educate young Texans on the value of law enforcement in communities.

For example, Abbott said assaulting a police officer would be classified as a second-degree felony, instead of a third-degree felony.

The governor's pitch follows the lead of Senator John Cornyn, who last week proposed a bill in Congress to make killing a police officer or judge a federal offense, punishable by a minimum 30-year sentence or the death penalty.

Abbott's announcement included the endorsement of several police unions, among them the Houston Police Officers Association, the Texas Municipal Police Association, the Dallas Police Officers Association and the Sheriffs' Association of Texas.

Texas first enacted hate crime legislation in 2001, inspired by the brutal killing of James Byrd Jr. three years earlier. The law provided stiffer penalties for crimes committed because of a victim's race, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, age or nation of origin.

A 2012 Austin-American Statesman investigation of the law found prosecutors rarely proceed with hate crime charges. In the first 11 years after the law took effect, Texas prosecutors secured just ten hate crime convictions, despite about 200 possible hate crimes reported by police.
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Zach Despart is the managing editor of the Houston Press and oversees the news and music verticals.
Contact: Zach Despart