PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers on Tuesday engaged in a heated debate over whether they should approve a bill that would specify aggravated assault against off-duty police officers is a crime equal to assaulting an on-duty officer.
Current law requires lengthier sentences for aggravated assault against on-duty officers. The measure by sponsor Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, would equally apply enhanced sentences for aggravated assault against officers who are off-duty.
On one side of the debate were lawmakers urging the protection of police officers at all times. On the other were legislators calling the measure unnecessary and a mockery of what has been happening across the country with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The bill is labeled the “Blue Lives Matter Law.” Smith says it’s necessary because directly assaulting an officer should not be tolerated on any level.
“I don’t think it matters if you’re an officer if you’re on or off duty,” Smith said last month. “If somebody targets you because that’s their motivation, because you’re an officer, I can’t imagine why any of us would allow that.”
Senate Bill 1366 notes the crime of aggravated assault against a police officer includes “assaulting a peace officer that is not engaged in the execution of official duties.” It would call for establishing evidence that the defendant assaulted the person because of their employment as a police officer or because they believe that person is an officer.
The bill “mocks a serious issue that’s taking place in this country,” Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said. “It continues to put in place unreasonable circumstances in which individuals may be engaged in conflicts with off-duty peace officers that do not have to announce themselves.”
House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said police officers risk their lives for citizens and the measure will protect them from those trying to do them wrong.
“We’re just saying your lives matter and we will not let people mistreat you because of the public service in which you’ve taken up in our name,” Allen said.
Legislators approved Smith’s proposal on a voice vote and it awaits a formal House vote. The Senate passed the bill on a 24-5 vote in February.