State Rep Wants to Make it Illegal to Taunt Police, Cites Cops’ “Emotions”

After all, it is illegal to taunt police dogs. So why not the police themselves?


Photo | Joel Mathis

On Tuesday, way out yonder in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, state lawmakers, police officers, and other officials gathered in the State Capitol for a rally in support of law enforcement personnel, led by Pennsylvania State Senator John Rafferty, who entered a resolution in the State Senate to recognize 2015 as the “Year of the Cop.”

“It used to be when a law enforcement official answered the call for a burglary on an armed robbery, he or she worried about a situation where their life might be threatened,” Rafferty said at the rally. “After 9/11, we’ve seen a dramatic change in the attitude in this country, and in the world. Law enforcement officials are now being targeted because they wear a badge.”

True enough. And sure, why not call 2015 the Year of the Cop? We’re all for it.

But then another Pennsylvania lawmaker decided to say a few words — as first pointed out by the blog Raging Chickens Press — and those words have us scratching our heads a bit. 

Before he was elected to the House in 2009, Democratic Pennsylvania State Representative Dom Costa was the Chief of Police in Pittsburgh. In total, he spent nearly three decades as a member of the force. He was even shot in the line of duty in 2002. He is no stranger to what police have to go through on a daily basis. He knows that it’s one of the toughest jobs there is.

But it’s more than a little troubling that Costa wants to take a permanent marker to the Constitution, drawing a big old line through that little thing we like to call the First Amendment.

You see, Costa has decided that it should be against the law to taunt a police officer. Yes, taunt.

“This nonsense that is going on today where police officers are being taunted by people and being provoked, let’s face it: We’re all human beings, and eventually that emotion will break,” said Costa. “And that’s what they’re trying to do.” Costa says that he’s been talking to some of his colleagues and to Rafferty, suggesting that they put forth a bill that would make these taunts against the law.

Costa went on to point out that it is illegal in Pennsylvania to taunt a police dog. In fact, it’s a felony. (The law covers all police animals, from police horses to search-and-rescue dogs and the scary dogs they sic on you if you try to run.) And so, if it’s illegal to taunt a police dog, why is it not also illegal to taunt a police officer, goes Costa’s logic, in effect equating the brain and emotions of brave police officers to those of animals that lick their own butts.

“There should be a bill out there that you can’t taunt a police officer, because you’re going to get those emotions up,” explained Costa.

Just to be sure that we weren’t misunderstanding what the word taunt means, we consulted our good friends at Merriam-Webster, who variously define taunt as a “sarcastic challenge or insult,” “to say insulting things to (someone) in order to make that person angry,” and “to reproach or challenge in a mocking or insulting manner, jeer at.”

Yeah, that’s what we thought it meant. In other words, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will get you up to seven years in prison.” (That’s the maximum punishment in Pennsylvania for a felony of the third degree.)

Now, we’re not saying that you should leave your computer right now to head outside to give the cops a hard time. Their job is tough enough as it is without you bothering them. But we do believe that you should have the freedom to insult, mock or jeer at them without worrying about winding up in the slammer. And if there are cops on the force whose “emotions get up” every time some loud-mouthed civilian hurls a few derogatory remarks their way, well, maybe it’s time for a career change. Something non-confrontational that doesn’t involve carrying a weapon.

We put in a call into Costa’s office to discuss the absurdity of the bill that he’s pondering, but he was stuck in a committee meeting and unavailable for comment. So we’ll just leave you with this:

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.