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The average citizen is familiar with his local police force on a routine basis and knows them as the ones who are available to serve, protect and look out for our general well-being.
From time to time we are given the advantage of knowing the depth to which members of the police force view their job. A recent visit with Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel afforded me an opportunity to learn about an initiative that is very important to him, above and beyond his regular duties.
Weitzel has been a proponent of initiating legislation that would benefit police officers and their families throughout the United States. You may not know that homicide of a police officer while on duty is not a federal crime. And as laws differ from state to state it can sometimes take years before a case can get to court, which can lead to an added burden for families of slain officers.
It is Weitzel's belief that the federal court system works quicker within its avenue of justice. He related in our conversation there have been cases where the United States government has handled the prosecution of offenders charged with the murder of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, but there is no statute requiring it. That is what Weitzel is seeking - to make prosecution of that crime uniform across the country.
Weitzel has compiled statistics from across the country that shows the number of law enforcement officers being killed rising. He called it "a national epidemic." Weitzel is hoping to get the support of many local and state governments, national organizations and legislators to get a statute on the books.
He speaks with compassion about the families that have been affected and is willing to put forth any effort to see this initiative go through. We both agreed times are different now and it isn't "Mayberry" anywhere anymore.
For Weitzel it brought back the time when he was shot at (his bulletproof vest saved him) in the 1980s. Yes, that was right here in Riverside.
So legislators take heed when that letter from Riverside's Chief Weitzel comes across your desk. Having a statute on the books to cover this makes sense to me. It would make things move quicker and possibly be cost-effective.
I not only got to know Tom Weitzel better, but I got to know that he has concern not only for those he serves but for the brotherhood in law enforcement and their families.