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State lawmaker wants tougher penalties for setting fire to police vehicles

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(The Center Square) — A Georgia lawmaker wants to increase the penalties for anyone who sets a law enforcement vehicle on fire.

Rep. Deborah Silcox, R-Sandy Springs, announced a renewed push for House Bill 500 when lawmakers return in January. The announcement comes after vandals set fire to law enforcement motorcycles parked at an Atlanta Police Department facility on Southside Industrial Parkway that is home to the Atlanta Police Training Academy and its special operations precinct.

Police believe the vandalism, which authorities said destroyed eight police motorcycles and was part of a series of attacks targeting public and private property across Atlanta, is tied to sometimes violent protests against the planned Atlanta Police training facility in DeKalb County, derisively nicknamed “Cop City.”

“We welcome peaceful demonstrations, but Georgia will not tolerate the destruction of property,” Silcox said in an announcement. “An attack on police property is an attack on public safety, and HB 500 would give prosecutors a mechanism to directly penalize arsonists who pose a threat to public safety. In addition to the danger and destruction of property, these violent acts project a negative image of our city, which hurts our business climate and tourism industry.”

Under HB 500, anyone convicted of the arson of a law enforcement vehicle faces a maximum fine of $100,000 and between five and 20 years in prison.

While the state House passed the measure during the 2023 legislative session and the state Senate Judiciary Committee gave it the thumbs up, it did not reach the Senate floor for a vote before the end of the session.

“These attacks on public safety resources are outrageous and completely inexcusable,” Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said in a statement posted to Twitter. “This planned destruction of property and attempted use of explosive devices put both lives and community assets in danger. Those are the tactics of organized criminals, not protestors, and their supporters should ask themselves if they truly want to be associated with such radical and violent people.

“Working with state, local, and federal law enforcement partners, we will find these criminals and bring them to justice,” the governor added.

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