Monroe County legislators repeal police 'annoyance' law

Apr 15, 2020

Republican Monroe County Legislator Karla Boyce, flanked by Democrats, explains her decision to vote to repeal the "police annoyance" law she sponsored months ago. Pictured with her are Democratic Minority Leader Vincent Felder, County Executive Adam Bello, and Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell.
Credit CITY Newspaper file photo

The Monroe County Legislature on Tuesday repealed a controversial law that criminalized intentionally annoying or harassing a first responder, making good on a bipartisan pledge in February to undo the measure.

The law, officially named “Prohibited Harassment of a Police Officer, Peace Officer or First Responder in Monroe County,” was championed by the Republican majority and passed the legislature along party lines by a 17-10 vote last fall.

Former County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo signed the legislation into law in December over the boisterous objections of Democratic legislators, criminal defense lawyers, and social justice activists who warned the measure was redundant, too subjective, and unconstitutional.

The law criminalized action that intentionally “annoys, alarms or threatens the personal safety of an officer” and carried a penalty of up to a year in jail, up to a $5,000 fine, or both.

Even top police officials, including the Monroe County sheriff, the Rochester police chief, and the president of the Rochester police officers union, decried the bill and advised officers not to act on it.

“The perceived vagueness of the local law by the public and law enforcement could potentially criminalize constitutionally protected conduct,” the language of the repeal read.

Ironically, the bill’s lead sponsor, Legislator Karla Boyce, a Republican who is currently running for County Clerk, spearheaded its repeal, saying she had “a change of heart” after critics of law, particularly in communities of color, helped her better understand its ramifications.

After repealing the law, Democratic Minority Leader Vince Felder issued a statement that reminded constituents who brought them the law.

“This law was misguided, flawed and unconstitutional from the beginning,” he said. “While it is shameful that the Republican majority rammed it through last fall over the community’s outcry, I am relieved we were able to repeal it tonight before any lasting damage was done to our community.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at gfanelli@rochester-citynews.com.