ANNAPOLIS – State law makes it a greater crime to assault a police dog than the officer directing the canine, say state legislators trying to increase the penalty.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and fellow House members were joined by law enforcement officers Tuesday in supporting a bill to impose greater penalties on police assaults.
Busch called HB2 a “priority piece of legislation” for the General Assembly.
The bill, which is cosponsored by 50 delegates, would make attacks on a police officer a felony carrying up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The bill would make the crime equivalent to that of assaulting police dogs.
“This is about reaching out, giving tools to men and women who serve us as police officers and who put their lives on the line every day,” Busch said.
Under current law, nothing less than shooting at an officer or attempting to cause serious physical injury will result in charges of first-degree assault.
Assaults on Maryland police are twice as high as surrounding states, Busch said. In Maryland, there is an average of 4,000 assaults on police officers yearly.
The president of the Maryland Chief of Police Association, Col. H. Frederick Keeney, said that while Maryland ranks 19th in the country for population, it is fourth in unprovoked assaults on police officers, behind California, Texas and Florida.
This is the fifth year for a variation of the legislation, which failed last year after an amendment to include teachers was tucked into the bill by the Senate, said the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which heard the bill Tuesday.
The bill also has the support of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert.
Chairman Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George’s, said his Judiciary Committee passed the bill out of committee with one negative vote last year.
“I guarantee it’s going to be unanimous” this year, he said.
Several delegates said they may try to amend the bill to include more officers and specify the degree of injury inflicted.
But Maryland State Police Superintendent Thomas Hutchins said there should be no difference between the actual injury sustained by an officer and the intent of the attack.
Annapolis Police Officer Scott Allen told a reporter later about being attacked in February 2002.
“He tackled me,” Allen said. “We went up into the air, fell to the ground. He struck me with a closed fist. I chased him.”
It was only after he reached out to grab the assailant’s jacket that he realized he had broken his collarbone. The injury took him off active duty for seven months. The assailant was found to be in violation of his probation.
Such attacks must be punished appropriately, said another officer.
“It takes a very special person to assault a police officer,” said O’Brien Atkinson, a police officer first class and the president of the Anne Arundel Fraternal Order of Police. “That special person should be a felon.”