NJ lawmaker learns from the Baltimore riots
The nation watched as rocks and bricks rained down from rooftops, injuring first responders and damaging their equipment during the recent riots in Baltimore. There was a complete breakdown of law and order, as hoses were slashed so that fires couldn't be put out, and police cars were torched and overturned.
One New Jersey legislator said the civil unrest made him take a closer look at laws in the Garden State -- and he didn't like what he discovered.
"I found out that a lot of what occurred probably isn't covered under our criminal statutes, so I immediately set out to try to correct that," said Assemblyman Tony Bucco (R-Randolph). "We need to be ahead of the curve here in New Jersey, to make sure that -- God forbid -- we ever have something like that happen here, we have the laws to protect our police, firefighter and EMS personnel."
The assemblyman introduced a bill that would create third- and fourth-degree crimes for interfering or obstructing a first responder with the intent to harm them, or damage or impair emergency equipment. The crime would be upgraded to a second-degree offense if someone is injured, and if emergency equipment is used or threatened to be used as a weapon against a first responder.
"Those things in New Jersey are covered, but the penalties in New Jersey are very low and we have to raise the level of the crime to a higher degree crime, which would give a judge the opportunity to impose prison time," Bucco said.
Anyone convicted of a second-degree crime in New Jersey faces five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. A third-degree offense is punishable by three to five years behind bars and a $15,000 fine, and a fourth-degree crime can mean up to 18 months in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Police officers, firefighters and EMS responders are called upon to save lives, so Bucco said lawmakers have a responsibility to make sure the first responders are protected.
"We have to make sure the kind of behavior and the kind of chaos we saw in Baltimore doesn't happen here," Bucco said.
The bipartisan bill's co-sponsor is Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Teaneck), a former police officer.