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To Prevent Attacks On First Responders, Lawmakers Propose Longer Sentences

Auburn Ambulance Service

Assaulting emergency personnel would bring tougher punishment under legislation approved Tuesday in an Illinois House committee.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Frances Hurley’s House Bill 3184 would make it a Class 4 felony to assault a paramedic, police officer, fire fighter or other first responder while he or she was on a scene performing official duties. Currently, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

Committee members heard testimony from police and fire fighter representatives explaining that some of their first responder colleagues — including emergency medical technicians — have gotten black eyes and broken bones from people they were trying to help. The representatives said some had even been choked and beaten unconscious.

“Sometimes it’s overwhelming out on the streets,” said Dan Fabrizio, a Chicago fire fighter and official with the Chicago Firefighters Union.

Rep. Michael Zalewski questioned whether the legislation would yield the harsher punishment Hurley and the first responders were seeking. A Democrat from Riverside, Zalewski said even as a Class 4 felony, an offender could still be sentenced to probation instead of prison. He voted in favor of moving the bill out of committee, but cautioned that the penalty might not be a deterrent.

A Chicago police detective told the committee that making it a felony to assault a working first responder would be a sufficient first step — paired with appeals to prosecutors for longer prison sentences. Tom McDonough, with the Chicago arm of the Fraternal Order of Police, said if the penalty was increase, “word would get out there and they (offenders) won’t commit offenses against first responders.”

Pat Devaney, president of Springfield-based Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, argued that such attacks are a statewide issue. “It’s not isolated to the city of Chicago,” he said, adding that there’s often no explanation for the assaults.

Rhonda Gillespie is in the Public Affairs Reporting graduate program at University of Illinois Springfield and covers state government and politics for Illinois Issues magazine. She was previously managing editor of the Chicago Defender newspaper and a reporter for other Chicago and national news, university and trade outlets. She can be reached at (217) 206-6524.
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