Rules against swearing in public or uttering “abusive language” toward police officers have been struck down in Wright City after aldermen voted to amend the city’s law against …
Rules against swearing in public or uttering “abusive language” toward police officers have been struck down in Wright City after aldermen voted to amend the city’s law against disorderly conduct last week.
The disorderly conduct ordinance covers a wide range of actions, but in general is aimed at deterring behaviors that cause health hazards or create a legitimate nuisance, beyond just being annoying.
However, Wright City’s most recent prior version of the ordinance was passed generations ago, city officials said, and included prohibitions on behaviors that are now more strongly protected as acts of free speech.
“(The ordinance) was probably from the 1950s and was probably void for vagueness,” commented City Attorney Paul Rost. “It just had a lot of stuff in there that the courts don’t really go for now. The city wasn’t even enforcing it, but now we’re getting it out of (the ordinance).”
Most notable among the rules removed from the ordinance were bans on "abusive or obscene language" and obscene gestures; a broadly worded ban on obstructing the duties of city officials; and a provision specifically banning abusive language used against police or on-duty city officials "when such words have a tendency to cause acts of violence."
Instead of those rules, the law now has general prohibitions on “fighting words” and abusive language uttered in a loud or threatening manner — although the same rules also state “words merely causing displeasure or annoyance are not prohibited.”
Another section of the ordinance that previously banned “attempting to incite a riot” has been revised such that a person must be part of a group and also engaged in unlawful activity in order to be guilty of disorderly conduct.
And in one other particularly noteworthy change, one completely new behavior is now classified as disorderly conduct: “Frequenting any public place with the intent to obtain money from another by illegal or fraudulent schemes.”
Alderman Ramiz Hakim, who promoted the revised ordinance, said the updates to the disorderly conduct law were necessary to ensure the public’s constitutional rights are protected and that city police have clear guidance on what they’re meant to enforce.
Hakim said the proposal to change the ordinance actually originated with police Lt. Tim Matthews, who has been reviewing the city’s law enforcement procedures.
“Lt. Matthews is really digging in deep in the police department and creating processes and systems and procedures for us. ... This was really pushed more from him,” said Hakim.
For those wondering what behaviors will get them in trouble under the new disorderly conduct rules, here’s a quick summary:
• Getting into fights, acting in a violent manner, or threatening violence.
• Public intoxication.
• Schemes to fraudulently obtain money.
• Fighting words or threatening harassment.
• Unreasonable noise disturbance.
• Obstructing roads or access to property.
• Damaging or “befouling” property to create a “hazardous, unhealthy, or physically offensive condition.”