New Mexico House Republicans are hoping to add police officers to the groups protected under the state's Hate Crimes Act. The proposal is in reaction to the murders of two New Mexico officers in 2015.
Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden had voiced support for the bill, even offering legislators to ride along with police officers in case they need help making a decision, Albuquerque Journal reports.
House Majority Leader, Republican Rep. Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, introduced the bill with fellow district Rep. Paul Pacheco.
“With all this anti-police rhetoric, I think it’s appropriate to apply [hate crimes laws] to law enforcement,” Gentry explained. “We’ve seen anti-police rhetoric that, in my mind, we need to help discourage.”
The New Mexico Hate Crimes Act states that if a person attacks someone based on their race, sexual orientation, gender, age, ancestry or because they have a disability, then they are subject to harsher sentences.
“We definitely need that layer of protection for our officers,” Eden said.
Civil rights advocates are against the bill, stating that giving police officers hate crime protections would undercut the point of the concept.
“Hate crimes don’t include occupations,” LGBT rights advocate Israel Chavez told New Mexico Political Report. “They include protected classes who are vulnerable members of society.”
New Mexico Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque is also against the bill, explaining that her father, a Hispanic man, was a victim of hate crime violence.
“He could go home and take off his uniform, he would still be targeted,” Caballero said. “He couldn’t wash the color his skin off.”
Assaulting a police officer in New Mexico already comes with stiffer penalties than attacking an ordinary citizen.
Police have come out in favor of the bill, stating they need special protections.
“Enough is enough,” said New Mexico’s Fraternal Order of Police President Bob Martinez. “The evidence supports and shows officers are being assaulted simply because of the uniform they are wearing … police officers have civil rights as well.”
According to FBI records, the number of police officers murdered per year has steadily dropped since the 1970s. 2013 was the safest year for U.S. police officers on record, NPR reports.