by Bill Davis
Ohio police officers, firefighters and other first responders could soon have more protection while doing their jobs if a bill in Ohio Senate aimed at increasing penalties for crimes committed against emergency responders doing their jobs passes.
Senate Bill 16 also allows emergency responders to pursue civil action in certain circumstances, including false complaints made against them.
The bill could apply to anyone who is considered an emergency service responder (ESR) or family member. The measure defines an ESR as any law enforcement officer, first responder, emergency medical personnel or firefighter. Family members include spouses, former spouses, parents, parent-in-laws, children, stepchildren or other relatives living with the ESR.
Certain actions against ESRs, which were once considered minor or simply mischievous, would be considered crimes under the bill. A person could be charged with disrupting public service if they tamper with equipment used by an ESR.
Charges of inciting violence or harassment could be considered third-degree felonies if the victim is an active ESR. Corruption charges may be brought against anyone who distributes resources with the purpose of inciting a riot.
Ohio Senator Tim Schaffer, R-Zanesville, introduced the bill, which held its second reading earlier this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Many organizations representing police and firefighters throughout Ohio were present or offered statements to show support.
Mike Weinman, the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police director of government affairs, detailed to the committee recent events in which police were subjected to verbal threats, harassment and physical attacks from people using “frozen water bottles, stones and bricks, homemade shields, chemical sprays, fireworks, laser pointers and a firearm.” Weinman then brought up that many complaints were brought against police officers during these events.
“In some cases, complaints against police officers came in from persons thousands of miles away based solely on what they had seen on social media,” Weinman said.
The measure would require additional prison time for those who commit arson in an attempt to intimidate an ESR.
“The reality is that our jobs as emergency personnel puts us in the public eye regularly and therefore susceptible to the ill-will of an individual who may be looking to target the personnel responding to that emergency,” said Steve Agenbroad of the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association. “Ultimately, OFCA believes this legislation will help protect our state’s first responders as we continue to serve in the name of public safety.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee meets again Tuesday.
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Bill Davis is a reporter for The Center Square.