The Morris City Council approved an amendment Monday night that gives more “teeth” to the city’s ordinance against profanity.
Though an ordinance prohibiting profanity in public locations was already on the books, it contained “antiquated” language, Mayor Richard Kopczick said.
The amendment, which passed unanimously, will allow officers to ticket a person who uses profane language that leads to a “breach of the peace,” according to Morris Police Chief Brent Dite.
“I think it’s got more teeth to it,” Dite said.
“[The amendment] makes the law better than it was,” Kopczick added.
The ordinance came to the board’s attention when, in May, a resident questioned the board as to why a troublesome neighbor was not charged with public profanity.
He had apparently shouted profanity at officers as he was being arrested for DUI, possession of a controlled substance, resisting a peace officer and criminal damage to property.
City Attorney Scott Belt and Dite said police officers could not file charges for being alarmed or disturbed by behavior, or in this case profanity, like the public can.
Officers are legally incapable of being alarmed or disturbed, Belt said.
Belt said at that meeting that he and Dite would look further into the ordinance.
On Monday, Belt said the amendment is based on recent Supreme Court rulings and believed the new language will give the ordinance more clarity.
“I think we either have to clean up what’s on the books or take it out,” he said before the vote.
Alderman Randy Larson raised concerns about how the ordinance could be enforced and what would be considered profane language.
Dite said the officers would be taught the intent of the law, but the enforcement of it would be at the officers’ discretion. Dite also emphasized that the comment would need to lead to a breach of the peace for the profanity law to apply.
The ordinance bans language – including “fighting words” – which are personally abusive and likely to provoke a violent reaction.
Kopczick said after the meeting that the ordinance treads a careful line between freedom of speech and public welfare.
“It’s a very fine line,” Kopczick said.
“We are the land of the free, but you’re not free to rob a bank,” Kopczick continued. “There are rules.”
Kopczick reiterated that the ordinance will be applied at the discretion of police.
“It puts another tool in their belt to be able to utilize,” Kopczick said.