The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill on Thursday aimed at combating police deaths by enforcing stricter penalties for their killers.
Rep. Vern Buchanan’s Thin Blue Line Act would add the murder of a state or local law enforcement officer to the list of 16 aggravating factors that must be considered for the death penalty.
“Those who murder a police officer should face the death penalty,” Buchanan, R-Fla., said in a written statement, adding he is confident the bill will pass the House. “Congress needs to show that we will not tolerate the targeting of police and first-responders.”
The bill applies to those who either kill or attempt to kill federal, state and local law enforcement officials, including firefighters and first responders.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., gave the bill his support, saying that, “this legislation sends a simple message: the stalking and killing of law enforcement officers must not and will not be tolerated.”
Goodlatte cites acts of terror like the Boston Marathon bombing as instances where this measure could have made a difference.
According to a report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the number of police officer deaths from shootings increased 56 percent nationally in 2016, to 64.
William J. Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, called the legislation necessary to minimize police killings.
“Establishing stricter penalties for those who harm or target law enforcement officers will deter crime,” Johnson said in a statement. “Any persons contemplating harming an officer must know that they will face serious punishments.”
But Monique Dixon, deputy director of policy and senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, had urged committee members to oppose the bill, saying it was unneeded.
"Our nation’s use of the death penalty is already fraught with racial disparities, and this legislation will only serve to worsen the imbalance," Dixon said in a statement. "At a time when public support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in decades, Congress should reject this unnecessary bill and focus on substantive policing reform."