Lawmakers aim to make threats against first responders hate crime


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Increasing amounts of threats against first responders around the country and here in Florida are causing lawmakers to act. They said they want to make sure they're protecting first responders in case tragedy strikes.

The third bill in the trio of first responder legislation unveiled Thursday would increase the monthly benefits a surviving spouse receives if their loved one is killed in the line of duty.

Nearly one year ago, Leon County Deputy Chris Smith was ambushed by a man who had anti-government beliefs. A fire was intentionally set in order to lure first responders, and Smith was killed.

Now, lawmakers are using Smith's story and many others as an example as to why new protections are needed for first responders. Rep. Elizabeth Porter filed a bill that would make it a hate crime to target an officer.

"Sometimes it's just unfortunately a demented way to get attention," Porter said. "But before they conduct these attacks, these ambushes that they plan to, or comes on them at the spur of the moment, I want them to have to think twice about what they're going to do."

A separate piece of legislation would make it a crime to threaten a first responder on social media.

"If you make a credible threat against people like first responders and others, you should be liable for your threat," Rep. Jimmie Smith said.

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco cited a social media post of a man holding a rifle saying he was going to shoot up the town as a need for new legislation.

"These people with social media are going online, they're stating, ‘I'm going to shoot up a school.' Really, from law enforcement's perspective, all we have is a misdemeanor," Nocco said.

The postings would be redefined as terroristic threats under a new legislative proposal. Anyone convicted could face penalties such as paying for the emergency response to the threat.