People who annoy an officer in one upstate New York county could find themselves facing jail time under a measure recently approved by a county legislature.
Under the Monroe County proposal, a person who annoys, alarms or threatens the personal safety of an officer could be punished with up to a year behind bars and up to a $5,000 fine.
Jamie Anthony, chief of staff for the Monroe County Legislature majority office, said county lawmakers passed the measure on Tuesday in a 17-10 vote. The county executive will hold a public hearing on the legislation and decide whether to approve it, she said.
The legislation also applies to first responders.
Some called the measure unconstitutional.
Iman Abid with the New York Civil Liberties Union said it will have a chilling effect on complaints against police. Abid said she is also concerned over what the legislation could mean for communities of color.
“Members of the community have every right to challenge police officers, particularly those that engage in unnecessary behavior,” she said in a statement. “At a time when more accountability of police departments is needed, this law takes us incredibly backward.”
In a statement last month, County Legislator Kara Halstead said she was proud to support legislation that “looks after those who look out for us.”
“This local law aims to crack down on behaviors of disrespect and incivility toward law enforcement and first responders in the hopes that these smaller incidents do not escalate,” she said in the statement.
A news release on the legislation also gave a mention to people dousing uniformed New York Police Department officers with water.
Delores Jones-Brown, professor emerita at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said courts have found that the use of the words annoying or alarming in statue is overbroad and unconstitutionally vague.
The legislation, she said, could create a situation where people are scared to exercise their First Amendment rights. An officer could be annoyed by a person who asks them their badge number or who records them with a cellphone while on the job, Jones-Brown said.
“This statue definitely has the capacity to make people afraid to do that,” she said.
Jones-Brown added that a portion of the measure could survive a legal challenge — a section tied to conduct that threatens the personal safety of a police officer. Courts have found threats easier to define, she said, but they are not completely beyond interpretation.
Under the legislation, a prosecutor would have to prove that it was a person’s intent to threaten an officer’s personal safety, she said.
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