Tips for Talking About Law Enforcement Enhanced Penalty Laws


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Messaging Memo
Published: 2017

We all want safe communities and to feel protected and secure. Violence against anyone threatens that, and we all have a responsibility to stop, prevent, and condemn violence in any form.

The recently proposed laws that require enhanced penalties for offenses involving law enforcement officials, such as H.R. 115, don’t do that. There are already adequate laws that ensure that those who compromise police officer safety are penalized, making enhanced penalty laws wasteful and unnecessary. Moreover, these proposed laws have additional consequences that harm communities in the long run. They impair the relationship between police and communities, interfere with people’s ability to come together as a community in peaceful demonstrations and protests, and they do nothing to improve officer wellness.

Legislators should vote no on these proposed laws that would only end up hurting communities. Instead, lawmakers should focus on policies that improve the relationship between police and communities, and that improve officer wellness and health.

Read the below tips for talking about these proposed laws to build a narrative about the importance of adopting policies that promote true community safety.

1. Highlight the values at stake, including as Community Safety, Equal Justice, and Community.

  • Enhanced penalty laws would compromise community safety and impair the relationship between community members and the police.
    • In a time when the public is interested in more accountable and responsible policing, enhanced penalty laws would only impair community relations and create a legitimacy crisis, wherein community members perceive police officers as attempting to become a “protected class” that is above the law.
  • Enhanced penalty laws are often described as hate crime statutes, which intend to protect those who have experienced a “long legacy of violence, intimidation, and discrimination.” Using these laws, which are intended to protect people against discrimination because of their skin color, faith, LGBTQ status, or the fact that they have a disability, will only drive a wedge between law enforcement officers and the community.
    • Instead, lawmakers should focus on policies that improve the relationship between law enforcement officials and the community.
  • Officer wellness and safety can be better enhanced by improving officer training and promoting best practices. 
    • The Task Force on 21st Century Policing set forth 17 recommendations to promote officer safety that include training and best practices.

2. Use VPSA to craft effective messages.

  • Lead with values. Shared values help audiences “hear” messages more effectively than do dry facts or emotional rhetoric.
    • It is incredibly important to ensure that law enforcement officers are safe so they can carry out their duties effectively.
  • Introduce the problem. Frame problems as a threat to your vision and values. This is the place to pull out stories and statistics that are likely to resonate with the target audience.
    • These types of bills do nothing to invest in officer wellness or to address the everyday challenges faced by officers.
  • Pivot quickly to solutions. Positive solutions leave people with choices, ideas, and motivation.
    • Assign responsibility—who can enact this solution?
    • Legislators should instead focus on initiatives that improve the relationship between the police and community and enhance officer wellness.
  • Assign an action.
    • Ask your state senator to reject bill [NUMBER] today.

Sample VPSA Message:

We all want safe communities and to feel protected and secure. Violence against anyone threatens that. But the proposed laws to require enhanced penalties for offenses involving police would impair the relationship between police and communities and harm communities in the long run. Legislators should vote no on these proposed laws that would only end up hurting communities. Contact you representative to vote no on these bills and uphold true community safety.