The New York State Senate passed a controversial bill on Wednesday that aims to classify ‘aggravated harassment of a police officer’ as a crime, but will it give the authorities the green light for strong-arm tactics if passed?
Sponsored by Senator Joe Griffo, Bill S.2402 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.”
Griffo said that New York police require extra safeguards because “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, which will now move to the State Assembly, would make it a crime for a person to make any type of physical action aimed at intimidating a police officer. Harassment of a police officer would be recognized as a Class E Felony, punishable by up to four years in prison.
Not surprisingly, the bill has won accolades from police.
“Professionally, I am grateful to see this bill pass through the Senate,” said Utica Police Department Chief Mark Williams, as quoted by the House Majority Press. “Our police officers have a very dangerous job and need the support of our government leaders to help make them safe.”
Williams believes that all too often, individuals are “physically challenging police officers in the line of duty.” Currently, in instances where an officer is physically attacked but does not sustain a physical injury, the only possible charge is a violation, he explained.
These consequences are too lenient for offenders, and send the wrong message to the public, Williams continued.
However, questions may arise as to where the boundaries should be drawn concerning the right of individuals to report on incidents of excessive police force, for example.
In May 2011, New York homeowner Emily Good was arrested by Rochester police while standing in her yard and videotaping police officers who were performing a traffic stop in front of her house.
When one of the officers asked Good what she was doing, Good replied, “I’m just recording what you’re doing; it’s my right.” The officer then told Good that “we don’t feel safe with you standing right behind us while we’re doing a traffic stop,” and ordered her to go inside her house.
When Good insisted on her right to stand in her yard, she was arrested, handcuffed, and taken away in a police car. She was later charged with obstructing governmental administration.