NEW YORK: Joe Public usually takes great pride in catching police officers in compromised situations. They whip out their iPhones, press record and they’ve got it all on tape. And from there, it goes viral. Open disrespect, outright confrontation and challenge, all in a day’s work. But should it be? New York says no. The New York Senate has passed a bill that has taken a step toward relieving their officers of at least some public harassment. The bill would make aggravated harassment of a police officer a crime punishable by up to four years in prison.
Here’s what the bill says:
‘A person is guilty of aggravated harassment of a police officer or peace officer when, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm [the officer while the officer is] engaged in the course of performing his or her official duties, he or she strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects such person to physical contact.’
In regular speak, the bill prohibits obstructing the officer’s ability to perform his or her duty and prohibits the use of language — aka “fighting words” — that can cause injury or harm. As long as you’re not deliberately in the officer’s way, and you don’t touch them or use language that could cause harm to them, there is no violation.
Simple annoyance without physical contact may still be permitted as protected free speech under the First Amendment. “In a now-famous Supreme Court case from 1987, Houston Vs. Hill, the court ruled that a New Orleans law making it a crime to verbally challenge police officers was invalid on the grounds of freedom of speech. In his opinion, Justice William Brennan eloquently summed up the essence of the matter.
‘The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state,’ he wrote.”
In some states, laws similar to the “no annoyance law” already exist and may be found under either misdemeanor or felony obstruction.
The bill was sponsored by Senator Griffo: “At a time when shocking incidents of disrespect and outright confrontation are at an all-time high, the men and women who patrol the streets of our cities deserve every possible protection we can offer them. My bill would make it a crime to take any type of physical action to try to intimidate a police officer. This is a necessary action because we can see from the rise in incidents that too many people in our society have lost the respect they need to have for a police officer. We need to make it very clear that when a police officer is performing his duty, every citizen needs to comply and that refusal to comply carries a penalty.
The proposed bill has won praise from New York law enforcement officials.”Professionally, I am grateful to see this bill pass through the Senate,” Utica Police Department Chief Mark Williams said in a statement. “Our police officers have a very dangerous job and need the support of our government leaders to help make them safe.”
The bill is on its way to the State Assembly.
(Sources: The Huffington Post, nysenate.gov) (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
- New York State May Make It A Felony To “Annoy” A Police Officer (disinfo.com)
- “Annoying” a Cop Could Become a Felony in New York (animalnewyork.com)