"Contempt of cop" is law enforcement jargon in the United States for behavior by people towards law enforcement officers that the officers perceive as disrespectful or insufficiently deferential to their authority. It is a play on the phrase contempt of court, and not an actual offense. The phrase is associated with unlawful arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals, often for expressing or exercising rights guaranteed to them by the United States Constitution. Contempt of cop is often discussed in connection to police misconduct such as use of excessive force or even police brutality as a reaction to perceived disrespectful behavior rather than for any legitimate law enforcement purpose.
Arrests for contempt of cop may stem from a type of "occupational arrogance" when a police officer thinks his or her authority cannot or 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 disobeying instructions, or expressing interest in filing a complaint against the officer). Fleeing 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, fleeing from police and assaulting an officer may be cited as official reasons in a contempt of cop arrest.Obstructing a police officer or failure to obey a police order is also cited in 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 "tend 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. In 2013, a federal appeals court ruled that giving the finger "alone cannot establish probable cause to believe a disorderly conduct violation has occurred".
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." In 2009 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.
Contempt of cop has been in use since the 1960s. The word cop is slang for police officer; the phrase is derived by analogy from contempt of court, which, unlike contempt of cop, is an offense in many jurisdictions (e.g., California Penal Code section 166, making contempt of court a misdemeanor). Similar to this is the phrase "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. (for "Pissing Off the Police") when a suspect's demeanor influences officer's response to people. "Leniency might be afforded to persons who treat officers with respect, whereas the heavy hand of the law is extended to persons who are disrespectful, ill mannered or rude."
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.
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.
'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.'
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.