The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
The proposal, introduced by County Legislators Karla Boyce and Kara Halstead, would provide:
Secuon I. A person is guilty of harassing a police officer, peace officer or first responder when he or she intentionally engages in conduct against a police officer, peace officer or first responder, that intends to annoy, alarm or threaten the personal safety of the police officer, peace officer or first responder.
Section 2. The action must occur when such police officer, peace officer or first responder is in the course of performing his or her official duties and the person committing such act knows or reasonably should know that such person is a police officer, peace officer or first responder.
Section 3. Violation of this law shall constitute an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to S5,000.00.
And the "conduct" would of course include speech, such as saying annoying things about a police officer who is doing his job. Yet "the First Amendment protects annoying and embarrassing speech," as the New York high court has held, including of course speech that annoys police officers: In the U.S. Supreme Court's words, "Although we appreciate the difficulties of drafting precise laws, we have repeatedly invalidated laws that provide the police with unfettered discretion to arrest individuals for words or conduct that annoy or offend them."
(Threatening a police officer, like threatening anyone else, could indeed be outlawed; but this proposal goes beyond that.)