LINCOLN — Ambushing a police officer or threatening retaliation against one would bring a stiffer penalty under a proposal heard Friday by the Judiciary Committee.
Proponents of Legislative Bill 638 said the measure would go a long way toward protecting those who put their lives on the line for the community.
State Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard said the bill would send a message that crimes and attacks against public safety officials will not be tolerated.
“We stand arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder with them,” he said.
Bostelman introduced the original LB 638. On Friday, he unveiled an amended version that incorporates LB 577, introduced by Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, and LB 623, introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln.
Hilgers said the proposal aims to deter people from attacking vital public safety officials.
“Attacks on law enforcement men and women make everyone less safe, not just those in uniform,” he said.
But Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers objected that the proposal treats some people’s lives as being of more worth than others.
“I don’t see the cops as those who protect and serve in my community,” he said. “I don’t see a basis to give them this kind of protection.”
Several police officers died last year in high-profile ambushes around the country. None occurred in Nebraska.
But there have been lower-profile cases in which Nebraska law enforcement, firefighters and other public safety officials have been threatened or attacked.
Andrew Yost, who manages the Butler County Jail, told of a person who drove by his house and shot at it after seeing a marked patrol car outside. No one was injured.
Denise Kracl told the committee of her time working as a probation officer in Schuyler. She said one probationer searched out her home and confronted her outside.
He didn’t do anything then, she said, but another day the sheriff called her warning that the probationer was headed to her house and threatening to beat her up. She said officers found the man before he could make good on his threats.
Under LB 638, prosecutors could bring more serious charges against those responsible for such incidents.
But Spike Eickholt, speaking for the Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, argued against the proposed expansion of “special victims” provisions of state law.
He questioned whether increased penalties would do anything to prevent attacks on public safety officials.
“I think people know that, when they assault an officer, that is against the law,” he said.
The amended version of LB 638 would:
» Create a new crime of attacking law enforcement, firefighters or emergency medical services workers by ambush.
The charge would apply if the official was on duty and attacked from hiding or unexpectedly. It would be a Class 1C felony, carrying a penalty of five to 50 years in prison.
» Make it illegal to threaten or attack a public safety or health care official in retaliation for that person doing his or her duty. It also would be illegal to threaten an official’s property.
The retaliation provision would apply to a broad range of officials, including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement officers, probation officers, firefighters, emergency care providers, corrections employees and health care professionals. Department of Health and Human Services employees would be covered, if attacked by dangerous sex offenders.
The penalty for retaliation would vary with the seriousness of the offense.
Threats against property would be a Class 3A felony, carrying a penalty of up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Retaliation that results in serious injury would be a Class 1C felony, carrying a penalty of five to 50 years in prison.
» Add local corrections officers to existing laws that provide enhanced penalties for assaulting certain public officials.