It's a thought that runs through a lot of people's minds, although not too many people act on it. The urge may be strong, but what about the repercussions? Could you go to jail for it? Could you get a ticket? You go back and forth in your head, and ultimately you decide against it. At least, most people do. I'm referring to the desire to use profanity towards Kansas City police.
Let's be clear: I am not condoning or encouraging the use of profanity towards anyone, let alone law enforcement. But, what I am interested in discussing is whether profanity used towards police should be considered protected speech (i.e., not illegal).
There have been cases on this subject throughout the last few years and one notable one right here in Kansas. Before we get into the protected speech discussion, I want to take a moment to review the facts and events of the recent Olathe case.
According to reports, Scott Schaper was stopped by an Olathe police officer as Schaper was driving his kids to school on the morning of September 11, 2009. The officer subsequently issued Schaper a citation for failure to yield at a stop sign. Apparently, the incident caused Schaper's children to become upset and cry. Undoubtedly unhappy with the citation and the fact that his children were upset, Schaper made the choice to “raise his middle finger towards the officer” and proceeded to yell “F**k You” to the officer.
Immediately, the officer again stopped Schaper and issued him a ticket for disorderly conduct. After consulting with an attorney, Schaper requested that the second ticket be dismissed. He argued that his gesture and his statement to the officer as he was pulling away from the traffic stop was protected speech, a right guaranteed by the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Schaper's legal counsel just happened to be Doug Bonney, Chief Counsel and Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Kansas. Bonney authored a letter, which was addressed to the city attorney. In it, he reviewed the facts of the current case and went on to list several examples where swearing at an officer or raising a middle finger towards an officer was held to be protected speech.
One of the most persuasive cases for Schaper was one that had recently been settled in Pennsylvania. In this case, Pittsburgh ended up paying $50,000 after being sued by a man who had been issued a citation for disorderly conduct after he made an offensive gesture towards an officer. In addition to the cash settlement, the city was also required to retrain its officers on the true meaning of the disorderly conduct law. Apparently, up until this last incident, Pittsburgh law enforcement cited almost 200 people for disorderly conduct between March 2005 - July 2009.
By the end of the Olathe case, Schaper was awarded $4,000 from the city and an additional $1,000 to be issued to ACLU in Kansas. In addition, as in the Pittsburgh case, Olathe officers were expected to be retrained and understand that, for better or for worse, verbal abuse is part of the job and officers just need to “swallow it.”
What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree that protected speech should include profanity towards police officers?