A package of proposals to protect police is unveiled in Ontario County

Sheriffs across the state are calling on new police protections unveiled Wednesday in regional press conferences including one in Ontario County.

Two of the proposals would increase the felony level for people who resist arrest and for those who fail to retreat or halt when ordered by a police officer. Another six proposals address related crimes against officers such as assault, aggravated harassment, stalking of officers and criminal doxing — use of private information to harm an officer.

“It’s a difficult and dangerous job for our police officers,” said Livingston County Sheriff Thomas Dougherty, who spoke outside the Ontario County Safety Training Facility in Hopewell. Dougherty is vice president of the New York State Sheriff’s Association, which is calling for the legislative measures. He said the protections are necessary for the officers and the public. The measures “show members we care for them and the community cares for them,” Dougherty said.

The proposals also recognize and highlight the work of law-enforcement personnel by calling for a $500,000 disability and death benefit and designating May 15 of each year as a state holiday. Police Memorial Day would honor the more than 1,500 officers who have died in the line of duty to New York state.

“This is a noble career,” said Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts.

The proposals come following New York last month signing into law a sweeping package of measures aimed at making police more accountable. Those measures include a ban on chokeholds and a measure granting the public access to police disciplinary records. The deaths of unarmed black Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and others are prompting policy changes across the U.S. Thousands have poured into the streets in cities large and small to take a stand against racial inequities and police brutality since the death May 25 of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.

“Unfortunately, many politicians and community activists, and some in the media, have fostered an attitude toward the police which excuses, or even glamorizes, resistance to lawful authority,” said Dougherty, reading from a prepared statement. “It should be readily apparent to everyone that, with some notable exceptions, most of the recent tragic incidents which resulted in the injury or death of an individual at the hands of the police have begun with refusal by that individual to comply with a lawful order.”

Dougherty said he sees “resisting arrest” as the most important part of the sheriff’s proposals “Nobody wins when people resist,” he said. He emphasized the need to educate the public about what that means, for everyone’s safety.

The officers responded to questions about how the proposals relate to new police accountability measures in New York.

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike said the legislative proposals do “not downplay” the new measures and they will be followed. “We will do all that,” he said.

“We want to create a safe environment,” said Spike. He talked about actions sheriff’s offices take to address social justice and the role of law enforcement as peace officers.

“We wear all those hats,” Spike said. “We look forward to addressing all these issues. We want to do good for our community,” he said. “We want to do a good job and protect our officers.”

Other officers in attendance at the press conference included Ontario County Undersheriff David Frasca. 

Regional press events were also planned in Albany, Oneida, Ontario, Broome and Niagara counties.

Dougherty said the press events were “to put pressure on the Legislature” to pass the measures. “If we can’t protect our members, we can’t protect the community,” he said.

Learn more at https://nysheriffs.org/about-us/.

Includes reporting by USA TODAY Network