New Texas law classifies crimes targeting police and judges as hate crimes

Jessica Pounds/Cleburne Times ReviewThe Texas “Police Protection Act,” which will increase the penalties for crimes targeting police officers and judges, and add them to the list of people protected under hate crimes, goes into effect Sept. 1.

CLEBURNE, Texas — A new law in Texas will increase the penalties for crimes targeting law enforcement and judges, adding them to the list of people protected under hate crime laws.

Lawmakers created House Bill 2908, the Texas “Police Protection Act,” which goes into effect Sept. 1, in response to the 2016 attack by Micah Xavier Johnson that left five Dallas officers dead.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill June 6, saying he wants to create a culture of respect for law enforcement.

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the state will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” he said. “While our state and the nation continue to mourn the heroes lost in Dallas, it is time for us to unite as Texans to say no more.”

Last year, Louisiana became the first state to classify crimes against law enforcement as hate crimes under the “Blue Lives Matter Act.” Kentucky passed a similar law, and multiple states plan to do the same.

According to Texas state law, hate crimes are offenses committed with a bias or prejudice against someone’s race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender or sexual preference.

State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, voted for the bill.

“The act increases penalties against those who commit violent crimes against our law enforcement simply because they are employed to protect and serve,” he said. “In light of the growing number of violent attacks against police nationwide, including the sniper attacks in Dallas last year where five officers perished, one of those being my constituent, DPD Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens of Burleson, this action sends a clear message that Texans condemn violence against public servants that stand in harms way to keep us safe.”

Cleburne Police Department Detective Kelly Summey said the addition of “hate crime” on a first-degree felony does not increase any of the penalties associated with the offense.

“However, it does allow the prosecutor to ask for assistance in prosecution from the attorney general’s office,” she said.

Johnson County Sheriff Adam King said he doesn’t think the new law will really change things.

“It is a good gesture because it shows support from our legislature, but the majority of these confrontations are with people who aren’t stopping to think about the consequences before they attack an officer,” King said. “A lot of times there are mental health issues, too, so these people are irrational to begin with.”

The new law also applies to crimes against judges, which stems from the 2015 attack on state District Judge Julie Kocurek outside of her home.

Johnson County Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Judge Ronny McBroom said he makes it a point to be aware of his surroundings. During his time as a judge, McBroom said he has been threatened on several occasions.

“Thank the Lord, no one has ever gotten in my face or anything like that,” he said. “But, I just accept it as part of my job. It comes with the territory.”

Pounds writes for the Cleburne, Texas Times-Review.