There was a time when cursing in Arlington would only cost you a fine of $100. But this past weekend, Virginia’s Arlington County Board adopted an ordinance that upped the fine for lewd language to $250.
The board wrote in a memo on the ordinance that it’s not more offended by profane language these days, but raised the fine so the county penalty would align with that of the state. Virginia state law defines intoxication or profane swearing in public as a Class 4 misdemeanor, which for a first-time offense is subject to a fine of up to $250.
But it appears this won’t be a big money maker for the county. In 2014, according to the Arlington County Police Department, just four people were arrested for expletives.
Dustin Sternbeck, spokesman for Arlington police, said that of these four incidents, two people were arrested after parents called police on them for cursing in front of children. When police arrived, those arrested didn’t clean up their language.
Of the other two arrests, Sternbeck said one person was drunk, cursing and being disorderly in public. Another flagrant curser already had a number of traffic violations issued against him, Sternbeck said.
“It is not the intention of the police to issue summons or seek out people using profanity in public,” he said.
The Arlington County Board said its long-standing Public Drunkenness and Profanity ordinance was constitutionally vague, and, in addition to increasing fines, it changed the wording from “drunkenness” to “intoxication” to more clearly cover intoxicants other than alcohol.
In 2014, the Arlington County Police Department reported arresting 664 individuals for either appearing drunk or using profanity in public, with less than 1 percent of those occurring for cursing in public. According to the board’s memo, there were times when someone was under the influence of an intoxicant other than alcohol, but enforcement was not possible under the code as it was written.
Arlington isn’t the only jurisdiction in the region that has its own public cursing laws on the books. In Fairfax County, cursing will cost you $117. And, as Washingtonian points out, Maryland isn’t immune from such public profanity laws either. In Rockville, cursing or swearing on a sidewalk within earshot of someone else is a misdemeanor.
This post has been updated.