Riverside’s police chief wants to make murdering an on-duty police officer a federal crime and is asking Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin to take up his proposed legislation.

Chief Thomas Weitzel in March outlined his legislation to Durbin, who has yet to respond. Weitzel said he was motivated by the “inadequacies of the local court system” in promptly trying homicide cases involving police officers. Federal prosecutors are able to get cases before a judge much more quickly, Weitzel said.

“Homicides of police officers were up 37 percent in 2010 compared to 2009,” said Weitzel.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page website, 77 officers nationwide in 2011 were killed by gunfire or as the result of a physical or vehicular assault. That was up from 57 in 2009. As of mid-April 2011, 31 police officers had been killed by gunfire in the U.S.

In all, according to the website, 60 police officers have died in the line of duty through mid-April 2011. The number includes officers killed by heart attacks, duty-related illnesses and vehicle accidents.

“At this rate, there will be well over 200 police officers [who die] in the line of duty in 2011,” Weitzel said.

While all of the deaths are not the result of homicides, the increases in police officer death from gunfire in 2010 and early 2011 concern Weitzel.

“St. Petersburg, Fla., had three officers killed in one month,” Weitzel said. “And smaller departments are having officers killed now. It was rare previously for anyone to be killed outside of big departments. That’s not the case anymore.”

Weitzel said there’s a precedent for having federal authorities pursue prosecution in cases of homicide.

“The FBI handled homicides on Indian reservations of its own agents and they assist in investigating homicides of U.S. citizens on foreign soil,” Weitzel said. “Criminals are well aware of the difference between the local and federal government [pursuing prosecution].”

One of the differences in having the state of Illinois prosecute a police officer’s death is that the state no longer has a death penalty, while the federal government has that option. However, said Weitzel, the death penalty was not a motivating factor for his proposed legislation.

“I just would like the federal government to get on board,” said Weitzel. “It would change the face of law enforcement nationwide because [currently] if an officer is killed in the line of duty, it goes state by state. This way [prosecution and punishment] could be uniform.”

The change would also be fairer to families of fallen officers, Weitzel said.

“The federal court system moves quicker,” he said. “Mainly it’s for families who have to continuously attend court hearings. It’s unfair.”

A call to Durbin’s press office in Chicago from the Landmark seeking comment was not returned.