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The District Council Passes a Revised Disorderly Conduct Law

Friday, February 25, 2011

(Washington, DC) The D.C. Council recently enacted changes to the District’s disorderly conduct law based on a set of proposals developed by a task force that included the Office of Police Complaints (OPC).

Working under the auspices of the Council for Court Excellence (CCE), OPC staff worked on a task force with representatives of other offices and organizations over the past year to reform the disorderly conduct law.  The group included participants from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), the Office of the Attorney General, the United States Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender Service and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others.

The CCE is a nonpartisan, civic organization based in the District of Columbia whose mission includes improving public access to justice and increasing public understanding of the local justice system.

The changes to the disorderly conduct law reflect how courts have interpreted the previous statute.  The law now makes more explicit what is lawful behavior and what conduct can result in an arrest and criminal punishment.

“The new legislation is a positive step towards decreasing unlawful disorderly conduct arrests,” said Philip K. Eure, OPC’s executive director.  “Unlawful arrests for disorderly conduct lead to mistrust of the police and expose the District to potential civil liability.”

One particular change was made to the “loud and boisterous” section of the law.  The revision makes clear that offensive language directed at police officers, standing alone, does not constitute disorderly conduct.  Courts have ruled many such arrests to be unlawful because police officers are specifically trained how to handle these types of interactions with citizens.

In addition, MPD is requiring all officers to complete and pass an online training course before making or approving a disorderly conduct arrest.

The task force’s work was prompted in part by a 2003 report and set of recommendations entitled “Disorderly Conduct Arrests Made by Metropolitan Police Department Officers,” issued by the Citizen Complaint Review Board’s (now known as the Police Complaints Board).

The new disorderly conduct law was signed by Mayor Vincent Gray on January 19, 2011, and will become effective on April 3, 2011, at the expiration of the congressional review period.

To view the bill, visit the D.C. Council’s website at  For more information about CCE and its report, please visit