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"Contempt of cop" is law enforcement jargon in the United States for behavior by citizens towards law enforcement officers that the officers perceive as disrespectful or insufficiently deferential to their authority.[1][2][3][4] The phrase is associated with arbitrary arrest and detentions and is often discussed in connection to police misconduct such as use of excessive force or even police brutality[5] as a reaction to disrespectful behavior[6] rather than for any legitimate law enforcement purpose.[7]

Arrests for "contempt of cop" may stem from a type of "occupational arrogance" when a police officer thinks he or she should not be challenged or questioned.[8] From such officers' perspective, "contempt of cop" may involve perceived or actual challenges to their authority, including a lack of deference (such as by asserting one's constitutional rights), disobeying instructions,[9] or expressing interest in filing a complaint against the officer.[7] Flight from the police is sometimes considered a variant of "contempt of cop".[10] "Contempt of cop" situations may be exacerbated if other officers witness the allegedly contemptuous behavior.[11]

Charges such as disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assaulting an officer may be cited as official reasons for a "contempt of cop" arrest.[7] Obstructing an officer or failure to obey a lawful order is also cited in "contempt of cop" arrests in some jurisdictions, particularly as a stand-alone charge without any other charges brought.[12][13]



Freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, so non-threatening verbal "abuse" of a police officer is not in itself criminal behavior,[14][15][16] though some courts have disagreed on what constitutes protected speech in this regard.[17][18] The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1942 that fighting words that "tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" are not protected speech, but later cases have interpreted this narrowly,[19] especially in relation to law enforcement officers.[20 ]

Racial aspects

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer conducted a study in 2008 that found that in the city of Seattle, "African-Americans were arrested for the sole crime of obstructing eight times as often as whites when population is taken into account."[12] The New Jersey Attorney General also found a significant number of "contempt of cop" cases while investigating racial profiling by the New Jersey State Police, and concluded that "improper attitude and demeanor" of officers toward the public was a nationwide problem.[8] "Contempt of cop" is a form of "interactional discrimination" against people more likely to show disrespect and lack the financial resources to effectively defend themselves in court, such as young black people who have a historically poor relationship with police, increasing their probability of arrest, and this may contribute to racial discrimination in law enforcement.[21]


"Contempt of cop" is derived by analogy from the word cop, which is slang for police officer, and the phrase contempt of court, which unlike "contempt of cop" is an offense in many jurisdictions (see, e.g., California Penal Code section 166, making contempt of court a misdemeanor). The term "contempt of cop" was already in use by the 1960s.[5][22] It has also been referred to as "flunking the attitude test".[21]

See also

References and footnotes

  • Baruch, Rhoda; Henderson Grotberg, Edith; Stutman, Suzanne (2007). Creative Anger: Putting That Powerful Emotion to Good Use. Praeger. ISBN 0275998746.  
  • Cashmore, Ellis (1991). Out of Order?: Policing Black People. ISBN 0415037263.  
  • Coady, C. A. J.; Coady, Tony; James, Steven (2000). Violence and Police Culture. Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0522847889.  
  • Coleman, Clive; Norris, Clive (2000). Introducing criminology. Willan. ISBN 1903240093.  
  • Collins, Allyson (1998). Shielded From Justice: Police Brutality And Accountability In The United States. Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1564321835.  
  • Lawrence, Regina G. (2000). The politics of force. University of California Press. ISBN 0520221923.  
  • Shapiro, Steven R.. Human rights violations in the United States: A Report on U.S. Compliance With the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1-56432-122-3.  
  • Steverson, Leonard A. (2007). Policing in America: A Reference Handboo. ABC-Clio. ISBN 1598840436.  
  • Walker, Samuel (2005). The new world of police accountability. Sage. ISBN 1412909449.  
  1. ^ Baruch et al., 140.
  2. ^ Walker, 55.
  3. ^ Steverson, 300.
  4. ^ Mac Donald, Heather (2009-07-24). "Promoting Racial Paranoia". National Review Online. Retrieved 2009-07-26.  
  5. ^ a b Lawrence, 48.
  6. ^ Walker, 52.
  7. ^ a b c Collins, 51
  8. ^ a b Farmer, John J., Jr.; Zoubek, Paul H. (1999-07-02). "New Jersey Final Attorney General Report on racial profiling". State Police Review Team. Retrieved 2009-07-27.  
  9. ^ Shapiro, 119.
  10. ^ Walker, 153.
  11. ^ Page, Clarence (2009-07-26). "Obama's Henry Gates-gate". Real Clear Politics. Retrieved 2009-07-26. "Maybe so, but, according to Crowley, Gate[s] was yelling at him in front of his fellow police officers. In long-standing police-civilian etiquette, that's 'contempt of cop.' You disrespect the police officer, the officer has ways of showing you that he has a longer billy club."  
  12. ^ a b Nalder, Eric; Kamb, Lewis; Lathrop, Daniel (2008-02-28). "Blacks are arrested on 'contempt of cop' charge at higher rate". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2009-07-26. "The P-I treated an obstructing arrest as "stand-alone" if that was the only charge or if all other charges were for closely related offenses, such as resisting arrest. The number of black men who faced stand-alone obstructing charges during the six-year period reviewed is equal to nearly 2 percent of Seattle's black male population."  
  13. ^ Wilham, T.J. (2008-11-25). "N.M. cops can't arrest for 'refusing to obey'". Retrieved 2009-07-27.  
  14. ^ Rochman, Bonnie (2009-07-26). "The Gates Case: When Disorderly Conduct is a Cop's Judgment Call". TIME.,8599,1912777,00.html. Retrieved 2009-07-26. " 'In contempt of court, you get loud and abusive in a courtroom, and it's against the law,' says [Jon] Shane, now a professor of criminal justice at John Jay who specializes in police policy and practice. 'With contempt of cop, you get loud and nasty and show scorn for a law enforcement officer, but a police officer can't go out and lock you up for disorderly conduct because you were disrespectful toward them.' The First Amendment allows you to say pretty much anything to the police. 'You could tell them to go f--k themselves,' says Shane, 'and that's fine.' "  
  15. ^ Writing for the Court in City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451 (1987), Justice Brennan said, "The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state." — 482 U.S. 451, at 463
  16. ^ In Duran v. City of Douglas, 904 F.2d 1372 (9th Circuit, 1990) the Court held that giving a police officer the "finger" was protected speech. Writing for the Court, Judge Kozinski said, "But disgraceful as Duran's behavior may have been, it was not illegal; criticism of the police is not a crime."
  17. ^ Some lower courts have considered certain speech to constitute fighting words. See, e.g., David L. Hudson Jr. "Fighting words". Nashville, TN: First Amendment Center. Retrieved 2009-07-26.  .
  18. ^ In 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court, without ruling on the merits, allowed to stand a Montana Supreme Court ruling that unprovoked profane utterances to a county deputy constituted fighting words. See:"Supreme Court won't hear dispute over cursing at cops". First Amendment Center. Retrieved 2009-07-27. "Today the justices declined without comment to review his appeal in Robinson v. Montana. Their refusal does not address the merits of the issue. By declining to hear Robinson's appeal, justices left undisturbed a Montana Supreme Court ruling that unprovoked utterances are not protected."  
  19. ^ Egelko, Bob (2001-08-08). "Swearing at police is criticism, not crime / Appeals court overturns 2 convictions". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-07-27.  
  20. ^ In United States v. Poocha, 259 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2001), Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the 2-1 majority that, "criticism of the police, profane or otherwise, is not a crime."
  21. ^ a b Coleman, 136.
  22. ^ Cashmore, 180.

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