Harsher punishments sought for crime against officers

Nearly a year ago, local police officers reached out to state legislators, looking for a change to state law.

They wanted to make the crime of assaulting or killing a police officer more serious under state law, especially after reports of officers being attacked or killed nationwide.

That legislation didn’t make it through this year’s session, and now, police say it is even more important to try again.

Col. Randy Werden, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy, noticed what appeared to be a growing trend of people attacking officers, just because they were police officers.

“It just seemed like something needed to be done about it,” he said.

Werden contacted State Rep. John Price, who previously worked as a sheriff’s deputy, asking about legislation that had been proposed and approved in other areas of the country, which would classify the assault or killing of a police officer similar to a hate crime, making the crime and punishment more serious.

Price agreed, but the legislation grew to include more pieces, including fees that would raise money for video storage from body cameras and paying for training at law enforcement academies.

The proposal had support, but it was required to go through the House Ways and Means committee, which was bogged down with many other proposals. The legislation didn’t make it out of the committee, and never got to a vote by legislators, Price said.

Price, who did not seek re-election this year, doesn’t want the proposal to drop and is already working with other lawmakers to continue the proposal in next year’s legislative session, he said.

“It’s something that is needed, and it has a lot of backing,” Price said.

That legislation is even more important now, after multiple officers have been targeted and killed in the line of duty across the country, Werden said.

“It’s coming full circle, what I was fearing back in September is now reality, and I don’t know where it’s going to stop,” Werden said.

“Johnson County is no different than any other agencies or cities, the trend there is going to come here eventually.”

The law won’t save people’s lives or prevent someone from harming an officer, but perhaps it will make them think twice before they take action if they know they could face harsher consequences, Werden said.

And it will show people that violence against police is a serious offense and will not be tolerated, he said.

“If nothing else, it makes law enforcement feel like they have the support of the government,” Werden said.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.