Should Swearing at Cops Be Illegal?

By: Lisa Ferrari
By: Lisa Ferrari

January 16, 2006

Swearing at a cop holds little consequence in Virginia but now a local businesswoman is fighting to make cursing at an officer against the law.

Two Senate bills were presented today that would allow police officers to fine people for swearing at them. Both were killed by a Senate subcommittee in Richmond Monday, but there is still hope as three similar bills are being presented in the House of Delegates next week.

"My brother-in-law is a police officer in the county, and going to Foxfield he was doing traffic and was cursed and abused. So he wrote the gentlemen up and when it went to court the judge threw it out and said, 'no, that's in the normal course of your business,'" said Charlottesville businesswoman Mary Loose DeViney.

DeViney doesn’t believe police officers should be forced to take that kind of abuse. She along with some law makers is hoping to amend an existing curse and abuse code to include law enforcement specifically.

"Our law enforcement [and] our emergency personnel are out here working hard for us and [for example] when they're patrolling the mall, they don't need to be cursed and abused,” said DeViney.

“I think police are held to a lower standard. They are supposed to be able to take the abusive language,” said Charlottesville Police officer Dwane Jones, President of the Police Officer’s Association.

Advocates of free expression say the bill, although admirable, would never hold up in court of law if passed.

"Police officers certainly are deserving of being treated civilly and with respect, but the idea of forcing people to act this way towards officers by making it a crime to use rude words is a terrible idea, and also unconstitutional," said J. Joshua Wheeler Esq. Associate Director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

The current Virginia code prevents language that would provoke a breach of peace. DeViney hopes to broaden that law

"They'll say that police officers being cursed and abused is in the normal course of their business and I think that's wrong," said DeViney.

There are three curse and abuse bills currently being proposed by the House Delegates. One of those bills is being patroned by 58th district Republican Rob Bell and will be presented to a house committee next week in Richmond.

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