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Greg Kirk: Taking care of local law enforcement

Over the past few years, public local law enforcement officers all over the country have been disrespected and discouraged by their communities and by the media. It makes me sad to think that any of our officers feel afraid to serve the communities that once loved and respected them. I know that without local law enforcement, Georgia’s citizens would be significantly less safe.
Never before have we seen such negativity toward law enforcement officers in our state. I sponsored Senate Bill 154, which passed the Senate on Friday, to give law enforcement officers further protection under the law. Currently, anyone who is found guilty of aggravated assault against a public safety officer — which includes any peace officer, correctional officer, emergency health worker, firefighter, highway emergency response operator, or court officer — is subject to five to 20 years in prison.
Under SB 154, the punishment would include a $5,000 fine, half of which would go to the Georgia State Indemnification Fund to assist wounded or fallen officers; and the other half would go to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for public relations projects that promote law-abiding behavior. It is important that those who commit crimes of this nature are held responsible for their actions.
It is paramount that the government protects its public safety officers from exterior threats such as aggravated assault, but it is equally important that we protect our officers internally as well. While SB 154 ensures that wrong-doing citizens pay their fair share, my second bill, Senate Bill 155, would ensure that the government holds up their end of the bargain by ensuring fair compensation for public safety officers. SB 155, which also passed Friday, would create the Local Law Enforcement Compensation Commission, which would be responsible for conducting an ongoing review of law enforcement salaries and benefits based on data provided by Georgia’s counties and municipalities. They shall then report their findings every year to the General Assembly.
The Senate also passed SB 169, which I sponsored, to create a special license plate that would read “Back the Badge” across the bottom. All proceeds from the sale of these specialized license plates would go directly to the Peace Officers’ Association of Georgia so that they can continue to advocate for our brothers and sisters in blue. During my presentation of this legislation to the Senate, I asked for a moment of silence for the nine officers killed in the line of duty last year, and as I read each of their names, the senators who represent where each was killed stood in their honor. I want to thank Mr. Aron Crosby of Sumter County for thinking of this idea as a way to honor the two fallen officers from Americus and all the others across the state. This provides the citizens of Georgia with the opportunity to give a little back to our local law enforcement and show their respect for what they do.
As part of the “Back the Badge” initiative, the Senate passed SB 160, the “Back the Badge Act of 2017,” on Friday. SB 160 works to strengthen the punishments and enforce stricter penalties for those who are convicted of aggravated assault or battery against a peace officer. This bill enforces a mandatory minimum prison sentence by preventing any part of the minimum five years for aggravated assault and 10 years for aggravated battery from being suspended, stayed, probate, or deferred. Juveniles between the ages of 13 and 17 who have been charged with aggravated assault or battery with a firearm against a law enforcement officer will be tried as adults. We can never thank our law enforcement enough for all they do, but I believe this is a step in the right direction to show our support.
I am thrilled that the Senate took a stand for our law enforcement and passed these four bills. We’re fast approaching Crossover Day and I look forward to keeping you updated throughout the remainder of the session. Thank you for your continued support.

Sen. Greg Kirk represents the 13th Senate District which includes Crisp, Dooly, Lee, Tift, Turner, and Worth counties, and portions of Sumter and Wilcox counties. He may be reached at 229-854-9706 or by email at greg.kirk@senate.ga.gov.