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Lansing — Detroit Police Chief James Craig told a panel of House lawmakers Tuesday that a string of officers shot in the line of duty and growing “anti-police rhetoric” underscore the need to more aggressively punish people who target law enforcement.

Craig told the House Law and Justice Committee that legislation by panel Chairman, Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, would mean an extra two years in prison for attacking an officer and would help send a message that the Legislature is sticking up for police at a time when he and Kesto say they’re under attack.

So far this year, 10 Detroit officers have been shot, Craig said. Two shootings were fatal. He also pointed to a spate of other Detroit cops who have had shots fired at them but avoided injury.

The bills would add two more years in prison for anyone who assaults, kills or attempts to kill a police officer, emergency services responder or firefighter whether they’re on or off duty. The current penalty ranges from 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine for an attack resulting in death to 10 years for an attack resulting in serious injury to four years behind bars for an attack requiring medical attention.

Kesto said the new legislation would add “an extra layer of protection” for first responders at crime scenes.

“It’s an attack on our very way of life and our society as a whole,” Kesto said, adding that he would like the panel to vote on the three bills as soon as next week.

“In 40 years, I have not seen a time like this,” Craig told lawmakers, testifying in support of the legislation.

Craig said violence against police is spurred by “the absence of a loud voice denouncing the violence” and the “anti-police rhetoric that is sweeping across this nation.”

But the legislation might not lead to additional time behind bars because it would allow the sentence to be served at the same time as an underlying offense, according to the legislation. Assaulting an officer in Michigan also already carries additional penalties under state law.

For that and other reasons, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan opposes the package and says it would exacerbate existing police-community relations and “further extend racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” wrote Kimberly Buddin, policy counsel for the ACLU of Michigan, in comments submitted to the panel.

The bills would “upend hate crimes law” by making police and other first responders a protected class of people “despite the fact that attacks on first responders already carry enhanced penalties and are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Buddin said.

She also questioned alarm over statistics showing a spike in law enforcement assaults or deaths because the trend prior to 2016 showed a reduction in fatal attacks on law enforcement, according to FBI statistics that Buddin included in her testimony.

“Ultimately, there is no need for this legislation, and there is no evidence that police have been injured more because of anti-police sentiment,” Buddin wrote.

“Unfortunately, the charges resulting from the legislation, similar to other enhanced crimes, will likely be used disproportionately to overcharge and over-criminalize defendants of color who come from communities that are over-policed but under-resourced,” she wrote.

Craig pushed back against claims from Black Lives Matter activists and others who argue the criminal justice system is more likely to incarcerate minorities than whites.

“I do know that there is disparity,” Craig told The News. “Absolutely we’re gonna make mistakes, we’re not perfect. But it should not reflect an entire institution.”

The African-American chief said the Detroit Police Department is “the gold standard” in community-police relations, which is reflected in more homicides being solved as Detroiters grow more willing to share information with police.

He said the fact that blacks are incarcerated at a rate of five times more than whites — according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — does not indicate racial profiling or systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

“We also shouldn’t lose sight of, the majority of the crime is being committed by who? And when you talk about African Americans being killed, mostly African-American men, who’s committing that crime? More times than not, it’s an African-American male. That’s what the stats say,” Craig said.

mgerstein@detroitnews.com

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