ROCHESTER (WXXI) - Sponsors of a proposed New York state law to make crimes targeting first responders punishable as hate crimes say the measure was inspired by an increase in fatalities among law enforcement.
The Community Heroes Protection Act would designate any offense committed against police officers, firefighters, or other emergency personnel as a hate crime if the victim is specifically targeted because of his or her profession.
David Zack, president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, says he is grateful that the sponsors of the legislation are taking the unprecedented attacks against law enforcement seriously.
"There were 64 this year nationwide, and 24 of those were ambush-style attacks. We saw those in Pennsylvania and in New York City, so that hits close to home for us."
The Christmas Eve 2012 ambush on West Webster volunteer firefighters hits even closer to home for first responders in the Rochester area.
William H. Spengler was believed to have deliberately set a fire at his family’s home at 191 Lake Road and, armed with three guns, including a semi-automatic rifle, waited for first responders to arrive at the scene before shooting at them from across the street.
43-year-old Lieutenant Michael Chiapperini and 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka were killed in the shooting. Fellow firefighters Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino suffered serious injuries, and police officer Jon Ritter was hurt when a bullet hit the windshield of his car.
Gates police chief James VanBrederode calls the proposed hate crime measure a "feel good law." He says he appreciates the gesture, but doesn't think it would make first responders or communities any safer.
"A law on the books has proven to not be a deterrent. The only deterrent is keeping violent people behind bars. A law that sounds nice, that's not going to be a deterrent. People aren't thinking about that when they commit those crimes."
VanBrederode said he would prefer to see tougher parole initiatives and sentences that fit the crime.
"Making sure judges stick to sentences and stop all the leniency that comes out every day in the court system. That's the frustrating part, people getting out of jail who have committed violent felony offenses and they're out in three to four years, and it's absolutely crazy, because then they go right out and reoffend."
Zack points out that if attacks against emergency responders did rise to the level of hate crimes, they would come with longer sentences. When a person is convicted of a hate crime and the specified offense is a misdemeanor or a class C, D, or E felony, the hate crime is deemed one category higher that the specified offense.
The sponsors of the bill, Senators Fred Akshar, Martin Golden and Patrick Gallivan, say the measure has bipartisan support.