By Nicole Radzievich, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
Sept. 26–U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey touted a bill Friday that would expand the death penalty in federal cases where the victims were state or local police officers, prosecutors, firefighters and other first responders.
The Republican lawmaker said government needs to give law enforcement the tools and support they need to protect the country from an ongoing “crime wave.” Instead of maligning the 780,000 officers across the county, he said the government should be taking steps to support them.
“There is a trend. It includes cold-blooded killers who are attacking law enforcement officers simply because they are law enforcement officers,” Toomey said a news conference Friday surrounded by local law enforcement outside Bethlehem City Hall.
Toomey’s appearance came two weeks after the rollout of his re-election campaign. John McNesby, leader of the Fraternal Order of Police in Philadelphia, was among the speakers at the kickoff rally.
At the news conference, Toomey also criticized President Obama for deciding not to provide certain types of surplus military equipment to police departments. Toomey also noted that he was a co-sponsor of a Blue Alert Act, which would send out a national alert when law enforcement is threatened or attacked.
He said 137 police officers were shot or killed thisyear, some just because they were police officers. It’s unclear how many cases his proposal, dubbed the Thin Blue Line Act, would affect.
Pennsylvania already lists the murder of a state or local police officer as an aggravating circumstance for a prosecutor to seek the death penalty. That’s the law the Pike County district attorney is using to try Eric Frein, who is accused of killing one officer and injuring another last year in an ambush-style shooting, as a capital case.
Federal law already allows prosecutors to consider the death penalty in cases that involve the deaths of federal law enforcement.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District, the office had five capital prosecutions in recent memory. Four years ago, one of them was sentenced to the death penalty and is currently on death row.
The office has not prosecuted a case involving the death of a federal law enforcement officer, said Patricia Hartman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia.
“In recent memory, there has only been one federal law enforcement officer murdered, and he shot his killer as his killer was shooting him,” Hartman said.
Toomey’s bill was introduced Sept. 15; a similar bill was introduced last March in the House.
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