Police union pushes for cop killings to be included in federal hate crimes law

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter
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The lead funeral procession vehicle for NYPD officer Wenjian Liu makes its way under a US flag en route to the cemetery in the Brooklyn borough of New York January 4, 2015. Tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from across the country gathered on Sunday for the funeral of the second of two New York City policemen killed last month in an ambush that galvanized critics of Mayor Bill de Blasio. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW OBITUARY)

The lead funeral procession vehicle for NYPD officer Wenjian Liu makes its way under a US flag en route to the cemetery in the Brooklyn borough of New York

In the wake of the murder of two New York City police officers and a national debate about policing, the National Fraternal Order of Police is asking for the Congressional hate crimes statute to be expanded to include crimes against police officers. The union has more than 300,000 members.

Violence against police officers that is motivated by anti-police bias should be prosecuted as a hate crime, the nation’s largest police union is arguing in a letter to President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders this week.

“Right now, it’s a hate crime if you attack someone solely because of the color of their skin, but it ought to be a hate crime if you attack someone solely because of the color of their uniform as well,” said Jim Pasco, the executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police.

“Enough is enough! It’s time for Congress to do something to protect the men and women who protect us,” Chuck Canterbury, the president of the union, said in a statement Monday. The group has long lobbied for harsher punishment for those who harm law enforcement officers. 

The organization argues that “ambush attacks” — like the one in which NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were killed last month — are frequently motivated by hatred of the police. According to FBI statistics, about 21.7 percent of non-accidental law enforcement deaths since 2004 were ambush attacks.

In general, the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty has declined since the 1970s, reflecting the fall of violent crime in the United States in general. It’s not clear who in Congress would take up the union’s call to introduce such legislation. In the past, Democrats such as Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and Republicans such as Peter King of New York have sponsored union-backed bills.

Asked about the push today, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the initiative is "something that we'll have to consider." Earnest said the task force on policing convened by President Barack Obama would consider the hate crimes idea.

A hate crime is defined by Congress as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” If local authorities decline to prosecute a hate crime, the federal government can take over, making hate crime offenders more likely to face prosecution. 

Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who shot himself after killing the NYPD officers last month, posted anti-police messages on social media before carrying out the ambush.  His is the kind of crime the union hopes to prevent by classifying it as a hate crime.

The 1969 federal hate crimes statute has been expanded before. Sexual orientation and disability were added to the law by Congress in 2009 after lengthy lobbying efforts by LGBT groups.

According to FBI statistics, the majority of hate crimes are motivated by racial bias.

Read the letters to Obama and Congress here.