Contempt of Cop

Henry Louis Gates by Tom Davidson

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. The phrase is associated with arbitrary arrest and detention and is often discussed in connection to police misconduct such as use of excessive force or even police brutality as a reaction to disrespectful behavior rather than for any legitimate law enforcement purpose.

A similar idiom is ‘disturbing the police,’ a play on ‘disturbing the peace.’ It has also been referred to as ‘flunking the attitude test.’ In some areas it is called P.O.P. or ‘Pissing Off the Police.’

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. 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, or expressing interest in filing a complaint against the officer. Flight from the police is sometimes considered a variant of ‘contempt of cop.’ ‘Contempt of cop’ situations may be exacerbated if other officers witness the allegedly contemptuous behavior.

Charges such as disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assaulting an officer may be cited as official reasons for a ‘contempt of cop’ arrest. 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.

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, though some courts have disagreed on what constitutes protected speech in this regard. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1942 that fighting words that ‘end to incite an immediate breach of the peace’ are not protected speech, but later cases have interpreted this narrowly, especially in relation to law enforcement officers.


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