Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Bill Would Increase Penalties for Hate Crimes Against Police Officers in Wisconsin

An Assembly committee heard testimony on a bill that would include police officeres on the list of penalty enhancers for hate crimes

People convicted of assaulting police officers in Wisconsin could face additional jail time – if prosecutors prove the attack was motivated by hate. An Assembly committee held a public hearing on the issue Thursday, at the State Capitol. The hearing yielded compelling testimony.

Currently in Wisconsin, people face additional penalties if convicted of hate crimes based on race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Republican state Rep. David Steffen wants to add police officers to the list. He says there’s been an alarming jump in incidents across the country.

“The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund reports a 163 percent increase in ambush-style shootings of law enforcement officers in one year, 2015 to 2016. That for me is a clear message that there’s something that’s going on that needs to be addressed in our community and in our society,” Steffen says.

Adam Day says he had a life-changing experience at a fundraiser last summer. Day is a Sheriff’s Deputy in Grant County.

“I was confronted by a man who felt he had a negative experience with law enforcement more than ten years prior, telling me about his hate for me and for law enforcement. The young man physically attacked me, landing punches to my face and to my head, all due to one experience so long ago and now has hate for police officers,” Day says.

Day says he and his wife, who witnessed the attack, still suffer from trauma related to the attack. He says his assailant was arrested and is now serving jail time. Yet, Day wants the committee to approve the penalty enhancer.

“I stand here asking you to pass Assembly Bill 48. I ask you to do this for the thousands of police officers who are will to risk their lives for you on a moment’s notice,” Day says.

One person opposed to the measure is Marc Herstand of the National Association of Social Workers. He claims including penalty enhancers for police officers, would weaken Wisconsin’s hate crimes law.

“At a time when there’s been such an increase in hate crimes, vandalism and threats against racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation minorities, the last thing we need to do is to water down hate crimes legislation,” Herstand says.

Another skeptical person is Democratic state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa of Milwaukee. She says people choose to be police officers, unlike the folks the current law protects.

“People of color and myself as a member of our LGBT community, is you’re equating race, religion, color and disability to a job. And therein lies the dilemma that you would equate a job with folks’ identity that cannot be removed at the end of the day. So, tonight when I go home I won’t hang up my Latina-ness or my LGBT-ness. It is an inherent part of my identity,” Zamarripa says.

Committee members will vote on expanding the penalty enhancer, in coming weeks.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.