The Monroe County Legislature has passed a law that makes harassing or annoying police officers against the law and adds protections for first responders and peace officers. And the penalties are stiff.
It was approved last week in a 17-10 vote. The measure, written by Republican Legislator Karla Boyce, could mean thousands of dollars in fines or even jail time for anyone who “intends to annoy, alarm or threaten the personal safety of the police officer, peace officer or first responder.”
Boyce said most of the reaction she’s heard was positive, but she has heard some objections that center on one word.
“Annoy, OK? I know that was what was used on the floor of the legislature," Boyce said.
When asked to describe what annoying behavior would look like, Boyce didn't provide specifics.
"I think it’s the intent of the person that is making the overture or harassment,” said Boyce. “It’s no different than how someone can perceive feeling unsafe in the workplace. So you could say to me, ‘How can you feel unsafe?’ 'Well, that’s how I feel. I feel unsafe because of X, Y or Z.' ”
Boyce said no Democrat asked her to change the wording of her bill.
Opponents say the word "annoy" is too vague. Attorney Mark Foti said that word makes the law “overbroad.” He also said similar laws elsewhere in the state, including People vs. Dieteze and People vs. Golb, have faced court challenges.
“I’m relatively confident, if history is any indication, that this will be found unconstitutional once it gets into the appellate courts,” said Foti. “You have a duty to uphold the interests of the constitution, and this statute is potentially in direct defiance of that."
If County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo signs the measure into law, penalties could be a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. If Dinolfo doesn't sign it before her term ends in December, Boyce expects Adam Bello, the incoming Democratic county executive, would veto the law.