The State Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would make assaulting a police officer, EMT, or other first responder akin to a hate crime. The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Fred Ashkar of Binghamton, passed 56-6 with bipartisan support.
"The passage of stiffer penalties will not single-handedly protect all of our emergency service workers but we must make it clear that targeted offenses against our Community Heroes will not be taken lightly," stated Ashkar, a former Broome County undersherriff. "We will not be silent while you are selfless." The law would make assault on an on-duty cop, currently a Class C Felony, a Class B Felony. In general, a person convicted of intentionally targeting an officer or first responder would see their charge elevated one level.
Under current law, hate crime status can only be applied to cases in which a person is attacked based on their race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, age, or disability status.
Staten Island Assemblyman Ron Castorina introduced similar legislation last summer, focused specifically on police officers.
In both cases, legislators said they were inspired by a perceived uptick in assaults on men and women in uniform. Castorina referenced the killings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu while they sat in their patrol car in Bed-Stuy in December 2014, and, more recently, the killings of uniformed officers during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, and in a Baton Rouge parking lot. Ashkar, meanwhile, referenced a 2016 study from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund indicating a ten percent increase in police officer fatalities over the year previous, totaling 135.
Police reform advocates criticized Ashkar's bill, dismissing this supporting evidence as selective. Communities United for Police Reform referenced recent FBI and Bureau of Justice statistics showing that police fatalities and murders, as well as assaults against cops and police officer injuries on duty, have been on the decline for decades in the US.
"Hate crimes law is meant to protect New Yorkers who are members of groups that have historically been subjected to marginalization and/or discrimination, and employment is no basis for such protections," the group said in a statement.
"New York can be no progressive capital when hate crimes law protections are misguidedly extended to police while they remain denied to New Yorkers who actually experience discrimination based on their gender identity or expression," they added.
Last month, the State Senate’s Investigations and Government Operations Committee again voted down the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which has been passed in the Assembly nine years in a row and would update the Human Rights Law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
— Senator Brad Hoylman (@bradhoylman) May 8, 2017
The Community Heroes Protection Act has been sent to the Assembly, though a vote has yet to be scheduled. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's office did not immediately comment on the bill.