When the police chief in Red Wing, Mn., asked the city council this month to support gaining federal hate-crime protections for law enforcement, the council didn't hesitate. The Christian Science Monitor said the small city on the Mississippi River became the second place in the U.S. to pass a resolution calling for crimes against law enforcement to be prosecuted as hate crimes. The call for such protections is the latest development in a fraught year for law enforcement, which has seen more scrutiny over officers’ use of lethal force, as well as a series of high-profile fatal ambush attacks against police. Experts question whether such extra protections are necessary or would help prevent future attacks against police officers. Felonious attacks on police are at near-historic lows. Crimes against police officers are already punished more severely than identical crimes against civilians, which is the purpose hate crime protections are designed to serve.
“The primary symbolic value of hate crime legislation historically was extending an extra layer of legal shield over portions of society that had been under-protected, and I don't think that's true with law enforcement,” says Prof. Seth Stoughton of the University of South Carolina School of Law. The last time Congress extended hate crime protections was in 2009, when it added transgender and homosexual Americans to those covered by the laws. Some see the calls for expanded protection as at least partly a reaction to the increased scrutiny law enforcement is facing in light of a series of police killings of unarmed men. Those high-profile deaths helped launch the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has been leading the call for police officers to get hate crime protections this year, characterizing recent lethal attacks on police as part of a broader national crisis.