WASHINGTON _ Chief Roy Lane,of the Cortez City Police Department,will never know if the death of Cortez,Colo. officer Dale Claxton could have been prevented with better equipment or more safety precautions. But a bill recently introduced may make deaths like Claxton's less likely and keep law enforcement officers safer.
Claxton was fatally shot in the line of duty on May 29,1998 through the windshield of his patrol car. Lane said nothing short of a car with bullet-proof windows would have saved his life. And the proposed bill would increase the likelihood of having such precautions.
The bill,the “Officer Dale Claxton Resistant Police Protective Equipment Act of 2001” would help law enforcement agencies purchase bulletproof equipment for their vehicles and their officers.
“It will help us all,” said Lane. “That's the number one thing you look for,is the safety of the people that work for you.”
The bill was introduced by U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo),as a reaction to the death of Claxton,whose life might have been saved with stronger protection.
“If he had had bullet proof or bullet resistant glass (on his vehicle),there's a good chance he'd have survived,” said a spokesperson for Sen. Campbell. “A bullet proof vest only does so much.”
The bill would create a $40 million annual federal grant program that would match funds of law enforcement agencies to provide needed bulletproof equipment for both vehicles and officers.
Sen. Campbell,a former deputy sheriff said he understands the need to increase protection for the nations law enforcement.
“I used to be a cop,a deputy sheriff…When cops go out,they don't know if they'll be coming home to their families at night,” he said. “I've always tried to push legislation that makes their lives a little safer and a little easier.”
Two other bills introduced Thursday by Sen. Campbell would honor those killed in the line of duty and create harsher penalties for violating stolen gun laws.
The “Stolen Gun Penalty Enhancement Act of 2001” would increase maximum jail time for possessing,transporting or shipping stolen firearms or ammunition. The law would increase maximum prison penalties from 10 years to 15 years.
Stolen firearms are a growing national problem that needs to be addressed,said the Sen. Campbell.
“Tremendous amounts of guns are stolen every year…we need to send a message to persons misusing them,they aren't going to get away with it,” said Sen. Campbell. “I honestly believe that more and more laws that address the rights of honest citizens will not solve problems with guns,it seems to me we ought to increase the penalty of those who use them illegally and that's what this does.”
Lane,who believes penalties for these crimes are too light,said the bill is a step forward.
“Although in the case of Claxton none of the guns were stolen,we do confront that problem,” said Lane.
A third bill would provide Capitol-flown flags to the families of law enforcement officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
“Anytime you can honor someone who has fallen in the line of duty,it's a good thing,” said Lane.