The day of arrest is not often a shining moment in the lives of people taken into custody by police officers, but a new, locally authored bill would create two new felony offenses to penalize those who mark the occasion with spitting or some other release of bodily fluid.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, changes the state's crimes code to add the offenses of assault by bodily fluid and assault by bodily fluid with communicable disease.
The measure passed the House unanimously last week and creates the offenses for those who intentionally cause or attempt to cause a law enforcement officer to come into contact with fluids such as blood, spit, seminal fluid, urine and feces.
It happens, said Chief Gregory Bean of Southwestern Regional Police Department.
"There have been incidences where an officer has been spit on during an arrest," he said. "It's certainly unpleasant at best."
He said being exposed or facing the possibility of being exposed to a communicable disease is a concerning time for officers, who sometimes have to be treated with daily medication with unpleasant side effects and take measures to protect their own families from possible communication.
Springettsbury Township Chief Tom Hyers said bodily fluids potentially can be deadly if they find a way into an officer's body, such as through the eye or mouth.
"Police officers get spit at all the time by people who are mentally ill, people who are under the influence ... that happens more frequently than most people know."
The proposal: House Bill 56 would create a second-degree felony, punishable with a maximum 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, for those who spit on or otherwise intentionally subject officers to their fluid.
For those who do it while knowing or having reason to believe they have a communicable disease, the offense would be graded a first-degree felony with the same fine, but up to 20 years' imprisonment.
The bill is modeled upon an existing provision of the crimes code that protects corrections officers who are assaulted with bodily fluid, Gillespie said.
The current law for assaulting a law enforcement officer doesn't cover offenses such as biting a police officer when one knows or has reason to believe he or she is infected with HIV, hepatitis or another communicable disease, he said.
Assault on police officers falls under a different category of law than standard assault, under which charges can be brought when civilians are assaulted with bodily fluid, he said.
Gillespie said the hole in the law was brought to his attention by a police officer in his district.
A paramedic before he became a legislator, Gillespie said he has seen a number of instances where people assaulted emergency responders "with anything and everything, including bodily fluids."
"I hate to say how many times I've rolled around in the dirt with people," he said. "When we were trying to gain control ... they would strike out and spit on us."
Lawmakers react: Majority Whip Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said the law change would catch criminals' attention as soon as people started being charged with the offense.
"In some cases, they're on drugs and they're high and they don't know what they're doing, and in other cases they're mean and nasty and they just want to hurt somebody," he said.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said the bill is common sense.
"It's disgusting to begin with it and just not very civil," he said. "On a day-to-day basis, officers deal with a lot of disgruntled people."
The bill will become law if it passes the Senate, where it's awaiting committee assignment, and is signed by Gov. Tom Corbett.
Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland/York, said the proposal appears to have to merit, but she'll wait to form a position until she sees how the bill has changed when it emerges from its Senate committee.
— Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.