A proposal from two members of the Florida delegation to crack down on criminals who target law enforcement officers is building traction on Capitol Hill.
Last year, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., the former sheriff of Duval County, reintroduced the “Protect and Serve Act” with U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., as the main cosponsor. According to Rutherford’s office, the bill “would create federal penalties for individuals who deliberately target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence.” The bill cleared the U.S. House in 2018 but failed to pass the U.S. Senate. Rutherford brought it back last year.
“As a career law enforcement officer and former sheriff, I know what officers go through every day when they put on their uniform, say goodbye to their families, and go out on the streets doing the important work of protecting our communities,” said Rutherford when he introduced the proposal. “That is why we are reintroducing the Protect and Serve Act, which the House passed last year with strong bipartisan support. I will keep fighting to ensure steep consequences for anyone who targets our law enforcement officers and I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this bipartisan bill signed into law. I want to thank Congresswoman Val Demings for her leadership on this bill and for her support of law enforcement officers across the country.”
“Law enforcement officers have a tough job and it’s an extremely dangerous one,” said Demings. “I know, I did it for 27 years. Last year in Florida two sheriff’s deputies were shot and killed while they were at a restaurant, trying to grab a meal before going back on patrol. Both deputies were in their twenties. Tragically, 22 officers were shot in ambush-style attacks nationwide last year. As law enforcement officers continue to work to enforce the laws with the highest moral and ethical standards and build relationships with the communities they serve, let’s continue to work to keep them safe.”
The bill has been stalled before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee for more than a year though Rutherford has added 35 more sponsors besides Demings. Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, Bill Posey, Greg Steube and Ted Yoho are also cosponsoring the proposal.
Still, the bill has garnered some momentum in recent weeks. Last month. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody went to bat for the proposal this week, including writing to Congress.
“The act provides for a federal prison term of up to 10 years for anyone who knowingly assaults a law enforcement officer, causing serious bodily injury under circumstances where the crime affects interstate or foreign commerce. The call to action follows a disturbing increase in line-of-duty deaths nationwide—there are more officer deaths so far this year than all of 2019,” Moody’s office noted.
“Legislation identical to the Protect and Serve Act of 2019 received overwhelming, bipartisan support in passing the U.S. House just a few years ago, then somehow stalled. But this act is needed now more than ever, as law enforcement officer deaths are rising at an alarming pace. I am calling on our congressional leaders to demonstrate courage and stand up for our officers who risk their lives daily to protect American communities we all love. Pass the act,” Moody said last month.
This week, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, introduced the Senate companion with more than a dozen Republican sponsors including U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.
“Law enforcement officers in North Carolina and across the country put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe, and the dramatic rise in senseless acts of violence against LEOs causing injury or loss of life is simply unacceptable,” said Tillis. “I am committed to supporting the men and women who swear an oath to protect us, and that is why I am proud to introduce this legislation that would create federal penalties for criminals who target law enforcement officers. Particularly after the recent attacks on North Carolina Sheriff Deputy Ryan Hendrix and officers in Los Angeles, it is time to pass this legislation and send a clear message that acts of violence like this are unacceptable and that there will be no escape from justice for these criminals.
“It is disgusting to see our law enforcement officers become targets of violence, harassment and abuse. Law enforcement officers are not the enemy – these selfless individuals are true heroes who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. We can’t accept these acts of violence, and I’m proud to join my colleagues in this legislation to hold individuals accountable for targeting our men and women in uniform,” Scott said on Thursday.
The National Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Sergeants Benevolent Association and Major County Sheriffs of America are all backing Rutherford’s proposal.
Patrick Yoes, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, offered his take on the bill, praising Tillis and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, for backing it.
“The FOP is grateful for Senator Tillis’ leadership, and the support of Chairman Graham, on the introduction of the ‘Protect and Serve Act,’” said Yoes. “This legislation has long been a legislative priority for the FOP and takes on a particular urgency in the wake of the vicious ambush attack on two deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department a few days ago.”
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.