Richard Moore, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, was flanked by law enforcement officials from throughout the Gulf Coast Tuesday as they delivered a simple message to the public: “you do not shoot a cop.”
“If you do, we’re going to bring the full power of the government down on you,” Moore said. “If you harm one of our law enforcement officers, we will come after you.”
Moore made those comments following the killing of two Alabama police officers in January — Sgt. Wytasha Carter in Birmingham and Officer Sean Tuder in Mobile — and in the wake of an increased number of police fatalities across the U.S. To date, 15 law enforcement officers have been killed across the nation in 2019.
Moore said the trend has “alarmed” him as a law enforcement officer. As chairman of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys, Moore said he has the “unfortunate responsibility” of signing condolence letters to various law enforcement agencies every week.
“An assault on a police officer is an assault on the rule of law and our democratic principles,” Moore said. “Law enforcement is a critical part of our society, and when you undermine that, you are undermining society as a whole.”
Moore said one way his office can “back the blue” is by charging offenders who assault or kill police officers with applicable federal offenses on top of those they face in state court.
For instance, Moore’s office is still pursuing a gun charge against Marco Perez, the suspect in Officer Tuder’s killing, even though his pending capital murder charge in state court comes with the possibility of execution or life in prison.
While the U.S. government rarely files murder charges, Moore said attacks on officers often involve federal violations related to stolen weapons and other gun crimes. He also pointed to a recent case in Oklahoma where a man accused of shooting a police officer was convicted of obstruction of justice and faces a possible life sentence.
“Obstruction of justice is a federal offense,” Moore said. “The Department of Justice directs us to charge the most serious, readily provable offense, and we’re going to be looking for things we can charge those defendants with.”
The topic of stolen guns also came up during the event, which has been an ongoing discussion in Mobile since it was revealed the gun used to shoot and kill Tuder had been stolen from an unlocked vehicle just days before.
Some officials have considered the possibility of fining individuals who leave their guns in unsecured locations — like unlocked cars — if those weapons are stolen and then used to commit a subsequent crime. However, Moore gave the impression that wouldn’t be something he’d support.
“I know in this room and out in the community, there are plenty of good law abiding citizens that, like me, have left their pistol in their car,” Moore said. “I know I’ve left my pistol in my truck before, though it was locked. I no longer do that because I’ve heeded the message you’ve been hearing so much lately, which is don’t leave a firearm in a vehicle.”
Together with Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and more than a half dozen other local law enforcement officials, Moore also said something has to change — and change quickly — about the way the entire country views and interacts with law enforcement officers.
“This starts with how parents talk about police at home,” Moore added. “We need you to teach your children the importance of respecting police officers, and police officers have also got to earn that respect, too. If we can save just one officer, it will be worth it.”
One outreach effort Moore discussed in detail was the “Bridging the Gap” program his predecessor, former U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown, launched with the Mobile Police Department and the Mobile Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The program lets officers work with high school students on how to interact with law enforcement officers and how to prevent those interactions from escalating. It’s an idea that grew from a community group that starting meeting with local law enforcement in 2015.
James Jewell, the special agent in charge of the Mobile Division of the FBI, said: “Bridging the Gap” has already expanded to other cities in Alabama and to other parts of the country. That growth started after local officials began pitching the program at national conferences in 2015.
Both Moore and Jewell said they intend to keep pushing other departments to adopt “Bridging the Gap” or a similar outreach program throughout the Southern District of Alabama.
“We need teenagers to know law enforcement before they encounter it,” Jewell added.
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