New York Senate makes it a felony to annoy a police officer

The New York Senate has passed a bill making it illegal to "harass" a police officer by "any type of physical action" -- even action that does not otherwise constitute interference, obstruction or assault. Given that "obstruction" and "interference" are famously broad, it's hard to imagine what conduct the police and the NY Senate believe they need to control by statute, though there's a clue in the statutory language, which makes it a felony to "harass, annoy, or threaten a police officer while on duty."

In other words, if you cause any physical contact with a police officer, even unintentionally, even if the contact does not rise to the level of assault or obstruction or interference, you can be convicted of a felony and imprisoned if the officer can show that your conduct "annoyed" him. This is the kind of statute that seems calculated to allow the police and prosecutors to put people in jail for very long stretches (remember that 97% of people indicted for felonies in the USA plead guilty under threat of decades of prison should they fight and lose) just because they don't like them very much.

I'm reminded of Toronto's notorious "Officer Bubbles", Adam Josephs, who told a G20 protester that if any soap bubbles were to touch him, he could consider it assault (and who violently arrested the protester on that basis). The world laughed (albeit with some weary cynicism) at the idea that a large, armed man could call incidental contact with a soap-bubble "assault." But the New York Senate has effectively given police the power to literally treat mere annoyances as felonious conduct.

“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. “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.”

Senate Passes Bill Making the Harassment of a Police Officer a Crime


  1. The legislation appears to be nonspecific as to whether a ‘dehumanizing stare’ would be illegal.

    1. I think that a graduated facial expression chart is required… Will I be safe giving ’em the ol’ stink eye?

  2. Hmmm. Sounds like it’s time for some practical jokes of the surreptitious kind, like visual stain detection powder and the like. Interior of the police car, perhaps?

    How to get away with it, though…

  3. AFK emailing all of my friends in new york to pack their crap an d leave.


  4. I am fairly certain that its illegal anyway. Personally I just comply politely with the police I deal with, and remember their badge numbers for later if they turn out to be a dirty cop.

    1. And that will work for some types of people, but I hope you know that for others it is not always an option, to put it mildly.

  5. Gee, I wonder why disrespect for police is on the uptick? Could it be because they have developed such a thin skin that they need to be protected from being annoyed?

  6. Whenever I make a post here saying we need to start killing police, it gets deleted, but no one has ever suggested a better solution.  The US imprisons more than any other state, ever, in all of human history.  If violent insurrection was ever an appropriate response, it is appropriate now.  Boingboing readers are whiter and wealthier than most of America, perhaps that is why you don’t see how serious this problem is.  We can’t vote for a different system.  The US has first past the post, single member districts, winner take all elections.  There is no room for a non-corporate dominated party to enter politics.  Even if, somehow, against the odds, a radical does win the vote, the US has a history of straight up refusing to seat any left wing candidate elected to high office, as in the
    case of Victor Berger in 1918 in the US House of Representatives and
    five socialist Assembly members in New York in 1920. If a left
    party begins to gain real traction, we can expect their leading
    figure(s) to be imprisoned, like Eugene Debs, or assassinated, like Fred
    Hampton. We do not have a democratic society. This isn’t Canada or
    Denmark. It is a brutal oligarchy.

    1. The police are there to keep people like you away from the people with power. But you can’t change the management by attacking the employees.

  7. Actually, my reading of the rule (limited to what is posted here) does not require that a person touch the police officer at all.  “Any type of physical action” could simply mean, for example, skipping or chewing gum.  Both of which are already illegal anyway, if I recall correctly.

    1.  Or recording something on a cell phone camera…

      …in case anyone was wondering what this law is really about.

    2. Griffo said physical action and sounds like he would like this as broad as possible, but for now the text says physical contact. So not skipping or recording unless they, you know, walk up to you.

  8. “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.”

    Incidents of police brutality?

    Thats legalizing the police state. Reads like a law from Soviet Russia.

  9. “any type of physical action”

    Except for licking their boots, of course.

  10. Two things:

    1) Will filming be considered harrassment, as it would for a private citizen?

    2)  Will this force a large section of the media back to Anita Bryant days where discussions of whether to pronounce it ‘harr-assment’ or ‘harrass-ment’ ramble on ad nauseum?

  11. Um. It’s not a law yet. It has to pass the assembly and be signed into law by the Governor. If you have a problem with this don’t leave the state, call your assemblyman and urge them to not pass it.

  12. 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.

    What you fail to see, Senator Dickhead, is that the _reason_ people have no respect for your cops is that your cops have no sense of professionalism or common decency. It’s certainly not the case in every jurisdiction across the country (the cops in my city are actually know to be quite decent), so the fact that NY is having such issues kinda points to the conclusion that the problem is _you_, not everyone else.

  13. The United States of America; Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, Leader of the Free World,  with Liberty and Justice for All.

    No wonder everyone around the world is clamoring to come and live in the USA, to be free from Oppression and Corruption, where the Police protect and serve, where a person can be truly Free….

    …Yeah Right.

  14. Somehow, I just cannot see this working the way the legislative buffoons intend. Then again,  I wonder what Senator Puff N’ Stuff  and his ilk really have  in mind when considering the general public and “the respect they need to have for a police officer”…..

    My idea of respect seems quite different than the “respect” forced out of someone staring at the business end of a police baton. 

    1. People with no self-respect don’t know what respect feels like – but they understand fear, and feel it makes a fine substitute.

  15. Oh, come on folks. It’s not that bad, and things are getting better. Well, not as good as yesterday, but much better than tomorrow.

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