New York State Senate member Joseph Griffo (R-Utica) says his police harassment bill has been “annoyingly” misunderstood. His bill, Bill S.2402, would make it a felony to “harass, annoy, or threaten a police officer while on duty.” Not surprisingly, the bill has been applauded by police department across the state put has many wondering whether its passage, although unlikely, would lead to a dangerous expansion of police powers.
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.”
In justifying his bill, Griffo 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.”
The bill would make it a class-E felony to contact an officer physically with intent to “harass, annoy, or threaten a police officer while on duty,” punishable by up to four years in prison.
Although this is the third time the bill has passed the Senate, Griffo is not optimistic about its chances in the Assembly: “Based on the past history in the Assembly and the reluctance on increased penalties, I think it is highly unlikely that the bill will pass,” he said. “But we will continue to work to modify the thing and try to work with them, because the ultimate idea is to do something that works in society’s best interest.”
Further, many believe that the use of the term “annoy” in the legislation provides police with too broad of a scope, leading to excesses in police force. Many are echoing the sentiment of former Arizona sheriff and gun rights speaker Richard Mack: “I had to see for myself,” Mack said. “Is the state of New York really trying to pass a law that would make you a felon if you annoy a cop? New York, what in the hell are you thinking?”
Griffo believes that people are misunderstanding the bill that is meant primarily to apply to physical harm, harassment, or annoyance. He is considering re-wording the bill if and when this version is voted down in the Assembly, assuming the different language would achieve the same goal.
While protecting police officers who are on the job is of paramount importance, the history of police abuses of power has many rightfully worried that the wording of this bill may go too far by, among other things, including “annoying” officers as a cause for arrest. Hopefully Griffo can rewrite the bill to achieve its important intentions of avoiding the abuse of those who have chosen to “protect and serve” while ensuring that they are held to that motto.