Contempt of Cop

Carlos Miller at Photography Is Not a Crime coins a term (at least it is the first time I have heard it) for certain arrests called "contempt of cop."  I think it is a great term that summarizes a whole class of actions that many police officers treat as crimes, but in fact are no such thing.   People are getting arrested in public spaces committing no crime every day in this country for charges like "failure to obey" or  "photographing a police officer."  Police like to feel like they have absolute authority on the streets, that they are mini-dictators of the patch of ground within their field of view.   This is a fantasy, but as with all fantasies, folks get really upset when other folks try to dispel their fantasy.

The scary part is that the few who get off quickly are generally the ones who have had their incident video-taped.  Which is probably why police are working so hard to try to make photographing and videotaping of police illegal.  Because they know that in situations of he-said-she-said, the cop will win down at the station and among his buddies at the DA, particularly if his fellow cops will, as is typical, fabricate corroborative stories.  Citizen video tends to break this power imbalance.

One of the most notorious contempt of cop cases to make headlines was last year's arrest of an Albuquerque TV news videographer. Because that incident was caught on video, charges were dropped against the videographer and the cop was terminated.

That incident also prompted  Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz to issue a new policy stating that officers were not to arrest people for "refusing to obey" unless that person was already being arrested for another crime or physically keeping the officer from carrying out his duties.

Defense attorneys derisively call the refusing to obey charge "contempt of cop" and claim that APD routinely violates residents' First Amendment rights when they use it.


  1. Ross AZ:

    The term actually goes back years, and may have been coined by the LEOs themselves. And, yes, LE Agencies around the US are trying to make video and photography illegal, not, as they claim, because it may harm undercover officers or put officers in danger of retribution, but because it does break this power imbalance. The usual catch all charges of "disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and/or assaulting an officer" are being shown as the common method of justifying police overreach or brutality, and the video records catch them at their lies.
    The good LEOs need to be freed from the "Code of Silence", and the LEOs that abuse their authority need to find other employment. Videotaping will help both good LEOs and innocent citizens.

  2. Packratt:

    The term "contempt of cop" is actually a phrase that was coined by defense attorneys to describe the use of stand-alone obstruction charges, stand-alone resisting-arrest charges, pedestrian interference, or a few other offenses that could be used to cover for a wrongful detention, excessive force, photographing cops doing something they don't want you to see, or plain old expressing your knowledge of your own rights.

    Typically, such charges do generally get dismissed once any ethical prosecutors got a hold of the case... but by then the damage is done at that point as the officers got to show victims who's the boss, the victim is left with an arrest on their record as well as a significant legal bill, and the officer rarely sees any disciplinary action for the wrongful arrest.

    Thank you for writing about this issue, it needs more attention than it currently gets!

  3. Peter:

    Of course after contempt of cop there is also contempt of congress. If you are a libertarian is that a defacto admission of guilt to contempt of congress?

  4. tomw:

    When given a ticket for 'standing' in a 'no stopping or standing' zone, after being directed to stop by the same officer, you better believe there is "contempt of cop". The ticket was not worth a 70 mile round trip and a day in court. It is called extortion.
    When I asked why I was being cited, it was "stopping in a no stopping zone". Surreal.
    Hartsfield Jackson, Atlanta, GA. If you go, be sure to notice the dozen or so police vehicles parked in the no parking zone. It is their fiefdom, and paying customers transit at their own peril.
    I hate that place.

  5. Allen:

    While I do find there being many troubling aspects of these laws and their use, I'm also troubled by the claim "Police like to feel like they have absolute authority on the streets". Really? 100% of them? 80%? 30%?

  6. Nick Archer:

    Cops in some areas of Nashville are so territorial that we call their zones "Barney Fifedoms".

  7. Frank:

    Allen - to answer your question, 100% of them.

    Why do you seemingly doubt this? Is it your contention that police officers do not hope to exert absolute authority in their on duty actions?

    How much authority then? In charge 80% of the time? 30%?

  8. Frank:

    One of my favorites is the 'sit on the curb' routine when pulled over for a traffic violation.

    On your haunches in the gutter. Reasonable use of police power.

  9. Picador:

    "Because that incident was caught on video, charges were dropped against the videographer and the cop was terminated."

    Yikes! I hate abuse of police power as much as the next guy, but killing the guy seems a bit extreme. ;)