The press release by upstate New York Senator Joe Griffo (R-C-I, Rome) was deeply touching. Maybe “touching” isn’t the right word here.
The New York State Senate today passed a bill that creates the crime of aggravated harassment of a police or peace officer. The bill (S.2402), sponsored by Senator Joe Griffo (R-C-I, Rome) would make it a felony to harass, annoy, or threaten a police officer while on duty.
“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.”
A felony? Because protecting the foundations of society requires us to treat cops more respectfully? Perhaps they don’t teach civics in the Rome public schools? The only thing surprising about this bill is that Griffo didn’t include state senators as well, since they clearly don’t get much respect.
“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,” Senator Griffo stated.
Apparently, there is an epidemic of disrespect, an all-time high, that no one but Griffo is aware of, causing police officers to feel badly about themselves. If so, I know I’ve certainly contributed to hurting police officers’ feelings on occasion. Now I feel ashamed of myself for saying mean things about the people who 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.”
Aha! So it’s not just hurting feelings, but “physical action to try to intimidate a police officer.” Well, that’s interesting. And by “intimidate,” Griffo means “every citizen needs to comply” when a cop is performing his duty? This press release appears to present strings of meaningless phrases connected in such a way as to give the appearance of offering something substantive while ultimately saying nothing.
So what does Griffo’s bill, passed by the Senate, provide?
S 240.33 AGGRAVATED HARASSMENT OF A POLICE OFFICER OR PEACE OFFICER.
A PERSON IS GUILTY OF AGGRAVATED HARASSMENT OF A POLICE OFFICER OR PEACE OFFICER WHEN, WITH THE INTENT TO HARASS, ANNOY, THREATEN OR ALARM A PERSON WHOM HE OR SHE KNOWS OR REASONABLY SHOULD KNOW TO BE A POLICE OFFICER OR PEACE OFFICER 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.
AGGRAVATED HARASSMENT OF A POLICE OFFICER OR PEACE OFFICER IS A CLASS E FELONY.
Griffo’s nonsensical and meaningless hyperbole aside, the purpose of the bill is to extend the protections of Penal Law §120.08 for an assault on a police officer, a class C felony, requiring the cop to suffer “serious physical injury,” to situations where they suffer no injury at all. While the meaningless intent language is shared by other offenses, the conduct here applied to anyone who “strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects” a cop “to physical contact,” which apparently means any touching at all.
While many argue for their right to physically oppose police officers, in the course of performing their “official duties” (note that it doesn’t say lawful duties), when they act either without lawful authority or, more significantly, when they beat the daylights out of someone for no particular reason, this bill would create a felony out of any touching whatsoever.
It appears that the foundation of Griffo’s rhetoric, that there is some epidemic of harassment of cops that hurts their sensitive feelings, coupled with people touching them, exists only in the minds of those in a large room in Albany. It certainly isn’t reality on the street, where the worst of the harassment is the blood people’s heads leave on the ends of batons, or the damage people to do taser darts with their rock-hard bodies. In other words, this is a cure for non-existent problem.
But far, far worse is the potential for abuse. At least where evidence of an actual physical injury is required, an officer can’t claim a “touching” that leaves no proof of it ever happening, even though an injury fails to explain who did what to whom. At least there’s evidence that something happened here. With this bill, there need be no evidence but for the officer’s word. What could possibly go wrong?
The message this sends is similarly alarming. Are Griffo and his senatorial cohorts seriously contending that the heart and soul of society is to comply with police officers? Did he get his words backwards, and maybe mean to say that cops are public servants who must be compelled to respect the constitutional rights and physical integrity of the public? Sadly, I’m pretty sure he meant what he said, inane as it may be.
Does this mean that a person who taps a police officer on the shoulder to ask for directions, thus annoying the cop who is carefully focusing his attention on the new donuts being laid out on the racks of Dunkin’ has committed a felony? Well, potentially yes, but it’s not likely the way the law will be used. Rather, this would be more likely akin to resisting arrest, a weapon in the cops’ arsenal to ensure compliance upon pain of a felony charge.
It will take all of five minutes for a few magic words to find their way into an accusatory instrument to teach people that inadequate compliance with a cop means they’re in for a much harsher ride. But what of the touching, you ask? Well, it’s really not much of a stretch to toss in some language like “and the defendant subjected the officer to physical contact by touching his hand to the officer’s body.” Prove it didn’t happen?
Just nuts. Let’s see whether the legislature sees a similar epidemic to soothe the cops’ delicate sensibilities.