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New law would make annoying a police officer a felony

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The New York state Senate has passed a bill that makes annoying a police officer a felony. Critics say the bill will only contribute to law enforcement's use of strong-arm tactics.

ALBANY, NY (Catholic Online) - The bill sponsored by Senator Joe Griffo would make it a felony offense to "harass, annoy, or threaten a police officer while on duty." 

In support of the bill, he wrote as justification: "Our system of laws is established to protect the foundations of our society," Senator Griffo said. "Police officers who risk their lives every day in our cities and on our highways deserve every possible protection, and those who treat them with disrespect, harass them and create situations that can lead to injuries deserve to pay a price for their actions."

He added, "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."

A conviction under the bill could result in up to four years in prison.

The bill is widely supported by law enforcement who believe it will protect them in the line of duty. However, it raises questions of how annoying, harassing, and "treating them with respect" should be defined.

Will this mean protesters who refuse to comply with a request out of a spirit of civil disobedience will be sent to prison?

What about civilians who videotape officers performing their duties? Police have responded harshly before to being videotaped. In May 2011, a New York woman was cuffed and arrested merely for videotaping police while standing in her front yard. She was videotaping the police as they were conducting a routine traffic stop. Officers claimed she made them "uncomfortable."

And in April of this year, Sheriff's deputies in Bakersfield, California allegedly beat a cuffed man to death because he refused to comply with their orders. The incident was captured on cellphone videos and deputies subsequently rounded up cell phones belonging to witnesses.

The phones were later returned. Deputies have been initially cleared of wrongdoing in that case, but investigations are ongoing.

The law would also make any physical challenge to a police officer a felony, whereas currently it is only a violation if the officer is not injured.

Utica Police Department Chief Mark Williams said before the House Majority Press, "Professionally, I am grateful to see this bill pass through the Senate. Our police officers have a very dangerous job and need the support of our government leaders to help make them safe."

It's important to protect the police. However, it's also important to safeguard liberty too.

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