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Policing Morality Lawyer questions constitutionality of issuing tickets for language


he Maize district police department has seen many personnel changes recently, and a new department policy of issuing tickets for language is stirring controversy. Superintendent Doug Powers said the tickets are nothing new, but other district staff members Play spoke to said they don’t recall the citations being used for language before this year. Maize High officer Andre Parker said the district keeps no records of the citations it issues. He and chief Bill Riddle are both new to the district, so they were unaware if the citations were used in the past. Parker said he uses the tickets as a learning opportunity for students about what kind of language is acceptable. “If you talk like that at your job, you’re going to get fired,” he said. Powers said the department isn’t issuing citations for every cuss word, only for those that “substantially disrupt.” But some who received the citations don’t agree they were being disruptive. “That’s not true. Not at all,” sophomore Nathan Neimann said about what caused the citation he received. He was issued a citation for calling a friend a name at lunch after the friend took food from his lunch tray. “I can understand a detention, but a $50 ticket? It’s not fair,” he said. Sophomore Miguel Perna was fined for the same reason, except in a hallway. Perna admits he yelled the word

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and that it could be offensive to some people. But what is considered offensive enough to criminalize and what isn’t? Parker said he makes his determinations based off of the training he’s had as a police officer. “Every one of us has been a police officer before [coming to Maize],” he said. But can students really be fined for language? Because the district’s officers are commissioned police officers, not building security guards, they must stick to enforcing the laws, not building rules, attorney Frank LaMonte said. Parker said the citation is a disorderly conduct charge for vile and obscene language. Kansas’s disorderly conduct law, however, doesn’t say anything about vile and obscene language. Kansas state statute 21-6203 sets the law for disorderly conduct. It says that disorderly conduct includes brawling or fighting; disrupting an assembly, meeting or procession; or using fighting words or engaging in noisy conduct to arouse alarm or resentment. The state of Kansas defines fighting words as “words that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite the listener to an immediate breach of the peace.” So if the students aren’t using fighting words, is their speech protected by the first ammendment? LaMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington D.C., says yes. “Students have the benefit of First

Amendment protection, and I doubt seriously that a ‘zero tolerance for profanity’ policy could constitutionally be enforced at the high school level,” he said. Parker disagrees. “Whether they think they have the constitutional right of free speech, they also have the responsibility to be moral in public,” Parker said. While many could agree that students should speak respectfully in the halls of a school, the United States constitution is still the highest law in the land, LaMonte said. The U.S. Supreme Court case Bethel v. Fraser concluded that school administration can discipline students for vulgar speech in an assembly, but that’s far from police officers issuing fines for language used in a conversation. “They are on very shaky ground, constitutionally,” LaMonte said. It's questionable judgment to involve police in this process at all, LaMonte said. “A person in a police uniform is going to be more intimidating to students than an administrator, and when a police officer hands you a write-up, it's logical to believe you've broken a law,” he said. “If the police do not have anything better to do with their time, then the taxpayers of your district should be asking whether they really want to be spending their money on ‘cursing cops.’ ” n | DecemberPlay

Profile for Play newsmagazine

December 2013  

The December 2013 Play newsmagazine is 24 pages. Articles include a look into the legality of tickets being issued by district police for la...

December 2013  

The December 2013 Play newsmagazine is 24 pages. Articles include a look into the legality of tickets being issued by district police for la...