Upstate NY police say they won’t enforce anti-harassment law
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — Law enforcement officials in an upstate New York county say they will not enforce a controversial new law that makes it a crime to annoy a police officer.
The Monroe County bill makes threatening, harassing or annoying police officers or emergency responders a crime punishable by fines or time behind bars.
Critics say the law is unconstitutionally vague and could be enforced disproportionately against minority populations.
The Monroe County Chiefs of Police Association announced on Wednesday that none of the 12 departments in the association are enforcing the new law.
“We read it, and we all said ‘no’,” said Gates Police Chief Jim VanBrederode, who serves as the association president.
Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo signed the measure into law on Monday, hours after community activists demonstrated against it.
Rochester police union President Mike Mazzeo criticized Dinolfo for not seeking the opinions of law enforcement officials. Dinolfo spokesman Jesse Sleezer said the county executive spoke with many law enforcement officials and she had believed the legislation had support.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, issued a statement saying the law is unconstitutional and will only result in further mistrust of officers.
“This response from police departments should speak volumes to the Monroe County legislature who should immediately repeal this law,” she said in the statement.
County Legislator Kara Halstead, a supporter of the measure, has said the law is aimed at cracking down on disrespectful behaviors toward police and first responders.
Another legislator, Karla Boyce, said in an October statement that she hopes the law will “curtail the likelihood of more egregious incidents.”
Delores Jones-Brown, professor emerita at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said last month that the measure could create a situation where people are scared to use their First Amendment rights.
A similar proposal is being considered in another upstate New York county. Daniel J. Reynolds, chairman of the Broome County Legislature, said the proposal is expected to be voted on later this month.
Reynolds said the law is not intended to stifle free speech and is geared toward making sure that first responders are allowed to do their job unimpeded.
“It’s not intended, nor should it be used, to deal with protesting,” he said in an interview.