Politics & Government

Thin Blue Line Act moves toward vote, punishes those who kill officers

Congressman Vern Buchanan answers questions during a town hall March 18 in Sarasota.
Congressman Vern Buchanan answers questions during a town hall March 18 in Sarasota. zwittman@bradenton.com

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote Thursday on a bill that makes it easier to seek the death penalty for those convicted of killing police officers.

The Thin Blue Line Act, sponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, aims to make the murder or attempted murder of police officers, firefighters and first responders an “aggravating” factor when considering the death penalty.

This comes during a time when National Police Week is being celebrated. The tradition, which dates back to 1962 and originated under John F. Kennedy, honors the lives of fallen officers and their service.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to police officers and first responders across the country,” Buchanan said in a statement. “This bill will serve as a strong deterrent to anyone planning an attack against our brave men and women in uniform who protect and serve their communities.”

The bill was introduced in January after a year that saw an upsurge in police fatalities.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports a 56 percent increase nationally from 2015 to 2016 in police officer deaths as a result of shootings. Additionally, a 2016 report from the National Association of Police Organization shows a 167 percent increase in ambush-style killings of law enforcement officials.

The act covers federal, state and local officials and would be applicable to a person when murdered on duty, as a result of the performance of their duty or because of their status as a public official.

Also on Thursday, the Bradenton Police Department will be honoring officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty as part of its annual Manatee County Law Enforcement Memorial Service. The ceremony, which serves as part of National Police Week and is sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70, will be held at the Manatee County Courthouse, 1115 Manatee Ave. W., and begins at 10:30 a.m.

Immediately following the ceremony at the courthouse, officials will unveil a plaque in the main lobby of the police station commemorating two Bradenton police officers killed in the line of duty, Steve Bennett (1934) and Carl Cox (1970).

Both events are free and open to the public.