Laws Protecting Police Should Equal Laws Protecting Judges and Prosecutors

Laws Protecting Police Should Equal Laws Protecting Judges and Prosecutors

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

A recent, encouraging piece of legislation out of Minnesota has increased penalties for assaults on police officers. Included in the law are corrections officers (an often overlooked group), judges, and prosecutors. The bill, named after injured officer Arik Matson, amended state law to make penalties harsher for offenses of assault on the named government officials. While we celebrate this effort in a state where law enforcement is especially embattled, one must wonder if only police officers had been the subject of this legislation whether it would have seen the light of day.

In Colorado, for example, judges and prosecutors are protected against retaliation and threats which makes such acts a felony. The sweeping law also includes a member of the judge’s family, a person in close relationship to the judge, and a person residing in the same household with the judge. Colorado peace officers are offered enhanced penalties for assaults against them, and the threat of a felony charge for attempting to influence a public servant, and a misdemeanor charge for interfering with a police operation. The interfering statute covers k-9s as well as police officers but does not cover friends, family, or live-in lovers that judges and prosecutors enjoy. At least police officers get the same consideration as service animals, if not judges and prosecutors.

As an ironic note to Colorado’s recent legislative agenda that judges and prosecutors retain their immunities, while police officers in Colorado have lost qualified immunity, must pay out of their own pockets for judgments against them, can lose their certification based on complaints, and are assumed guilty of misconduct if their body camera didn’t get turned on while they are getting shot at.

In the wake of the January 6th assault on the Capitol, federal courts have asked Congress for funds to prevent angry mobs from overrunning courthouses, as well as counter threats to judges and courthouses related to criminal cases from the Jan. 6 insurrection. These requests are not new, and no one claims that prosecutors and judges are in no danger.

In July of 2020, Federal Judge Esther Salas was talking with her 20-year-old son, Daniel in the basement of their home when the doorbell rang and he rushed upstairs to answer. Salas heard what sounded like an explosion and soon found her husband bleeding from three gunshots and her son dead from the attack. New Jersey quickly passed a law prohibiting the revealing of personal information about state judges online or elsewhere. Although Salas was not covered by the state legislation because she is a federal judge, her family tragedy was the inspiration for the law.

Some states provide statutory privacy protections for law enforcement officers, but police reform efforts often erode those protections in the name of transparency and accountability. The practice of “doxing” – dropping documents available either from public records or from persons hacking into private sources, remains a threat to police officers. In 2015, two Los Angeles police officers who had been involved in a controversial shooting found their names, home addresses, and the location of their children’s schools posted on the Internet. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar was similarly doxxed with the purpose of coercing him to disclose the location of Officer Darren Wilson after the Michael Brown shooting. In 2019, hackers obtained information on thousands of officers who had attended the FBI’s National Academy program. As assassination attempts continue to increase, the issue of off-duty privacy and the safety of law enforcement families is of critical importance. Critics of law enforcement deny the impact of anti-police rhetoric on attacks on police officers, but common sense exposes a clear correlation. It is clear that judges and prosecutors fear attacks from criminals and deserve laws that protect them. There should be equity between the protections afforded these lawyers and the police who face these criminal forces in the rawest forms