A person commits the offense of disorderly conduct when “he or she acts in such an unreasonable manner as to alarm of disturb another, and to provoke a breach of the peace.” When I was a working cop, disorderly conduct was sort of a catch-all charge. The courts felt that, as a police officer, I was incapable of being alarmed or disturbed, and consequently I was not allowed to sign a complaint for that specific charge myself. Well, let me qualify that. I signed plenty of complaints for DC, but if a police officer appeared in court as the complainant, the charge would automatically be thrown out by the judge. In order to go forward in court, a private citizen had to appear to validate the complaint.
As I said, I signed plenty of DC complaints, knowing that they would be tossed at the first court appearance. Many times I’d signed them just to end a potentially dangerous situation on the street. Many times, in dealing with unreasonable drunks, who often show a propensity for acting in peace-provoking manner, taking somebody in for DC is the best solution for deescalating a potentially dangerous situation. Imagine pulling up in front of a bar and trying to disperse a crowd of unruly patrons who have all been imbibing to various degrees. It’s three o’clock in the morning and the drunks are getting loud and obnoxious. They’re yelling, shoving each other, urinating on the sidewalk, etc. The people who live in the area call the police. When the squad car pulls up and tells them to get moving, one guy decides to flex his beer muscles and states that he’s not going anywhere until he’d ready. Some of the other patrons begin voicing their support for the obstinate drunk.
“We ain’t breaking no laws,” the drunk sneers.
If you were the police officer, what do you do? If you simply say, “Okay, try to keep it down and be good,” and then drive away, rest assured that he drunken revelers will take this as a green light to escalate their obnoxious behavior. Things will undoubtedly spiral out of control, and eventually result in a more serious crime being committed. Plus, the next officers who respond will have to reestablish their authority because in the law of the street, they’ve already lost the first round.
This is where good, old disorderly conduct comes in. Let’s backtrack a bit. Upon the initial arrival of the first officer, and immediately after the onset of the challenge, the officer should issue the ultimatum: “Leave or you’ll be arrested.”
“On what charge?” the drunk roars.
“Disorderly conduct,” the officer responds.
Now even to the drunk’s alcohol-addled mind, these words have to ring partially true. He knows, despite his beer muscles and intoxicated arrogance, that he is, in fact, acting anything but orderly.
So one of two things usually happens: Faced with the threat of imminent arrest, the crowd begins to break up, or, two, a couple of the loudmouths have to be taken into custody before the rest of the revelers decide they’d rather not sleep it off in the confines of a cell. Most likely, the probability of one of the disturbed citizens who originally called to complain about the situation coming forward is pretty slim. Thus, the officer knows when the case comes up in court it will be routinely dropped. The defense attorneys will quickly point out that there’s no civilian complainant, and the judge will toss the case on the precept that a police officer is incapable of being disturbed. And in this era of frivolous lawsuits, the officer has opened himself up to a case of false arrest, but at least the situation at the bar got handled in an expeditious manner. And most cases of false arrest are resolved with monetary payoffs because it’s way cheaper to offer a monetary settlement to drop it than to fight in in court. Most coppers, judges, “falsely arrested” idiots, and slick lawyers know this. (Yes, it’s another example of saving the taxpayers money.)
And that’s how it works, unless you’re talking about calling in a false emergency. That’s another part of the DC statute. I once was called to a domestic disturbance at about three in the morning. Both parties had been imbibing and the female subject had hidden the male’s car keys. He wanted to leave and she didn’t want him to go. After trying to point out that their rather raucous discussion, which had disturbed several of their neighbors, would perhaps be better continued at a later time when everyone was sober, the female subject began repeatedly calling 9-1-1 on her telephone saying the police were in her house illegally. After several such calls, and numerous pronouncements by the dispatch center that she needed to take this up with the officers, she was advised that another such misuse of dialing 9-1-1 would result in a charge of disorderly conduct. In defiance, she dialed the number and was taken into custody. I knew the chances of getting one of the midnight shift dispatchers into court would be problematic and figured this DC case would go the route of all the other ones.
Much to my surprise, however, the female subject plead guilty in court. I couldn’t believe it. She was given a mild slap on the wrist by the judge, who acted equally astounded. The judge even questioned her lawyer as to whether she had been advised of all “the options.” The lawyer replied that he had indeed explained the law to his client, and this was her wish. (I guess it’s not often that one gets a chance to make a wish come true.) She was accompanied by her boyfriend, who nodded a quick hello to me as they left with as little fanfare as possible.
I didn’t think much more about them until a few months later when it turned out that the boyfriend was wanted for robbing several banks in the Chicagoland area. The FBI requested an escort to the suspect’s apartment and the boyfriend answered, claiming to be his own brother. But one of my guys recognized him from the domestic. He was subsequently arrested, but not before he’d tried unsuccessfully to burn up about twenty grand in stolen money. They had a fireplace in their town house, but the boyfriend forgot to open the flue and the apartment filled with smoke, necessitating the police to break down the door.
Yeah, sometimes you just have to act when you see someone acting in a disorderly manner.