Calif. county considers outlawing racially motivated 911 calls

Sheriff Jim Hart noted that such misuse of law enforcement "can further deteriorate community-police relations"


By Jessica A. York
Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.

SANTA CRUZ — Seeking to deter unwarranted racially motivated 911 calls, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart is seeking county leaders' support in outlawing the practice.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider the first reading of an ordinance to make illegal the practice of reporting an alleged crime to law enforcement "solely to discriminate against the person" in the absence of any real threat or harm.

Existing state law prohibits hate crimes and false police reporting, both of which may be punishable as criminal activities. The local ordinance would go one step further.

If approved, the ordinance may be scheduled for a final vote as early as Sept. 28 and become effective a month later.

In a report to the Board of Supervisors, Hart described emergency reports that were just based on the targeted person's race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity as "a real public safety concern." In particular, the report calls out 911 calls that are knowingly made and unwarranted.

It remained unclear how prevalent such practices were locally, as no county call statistics were available Monday. However, the board in August 2020 unanimously voted to declare racism a public health crisis in Santa Cruz County. At the time, the resolution called on all county departments to "incorporate educational efforts to address and dismantle racism." Separately, Santa Cruz County's strategic plan, "Vision Santa Cruz," calls for the enactment of legal measures that "protect members of the public from harm from false and racially biased crime reporting and that promotes overall public safety."

[RELATED: Suspicious person calls and third-party racial profiling]

"While there have not been an uptick in local cases that we are seeing, there are instances where we've seen this over the past several years," Sheriff's Office spokesperson Ashley Keehn said Monday. "We want to get ahead of this to make sure our community knows it's not something we will tolerate."

Hart's report cited high-profile cases garnering national media attention. Municipalities elsewhere, he wrote, have taken steps toward redressing the discriminatory and racially based emergency reporting practices, including San Francisco's 2020 "CAREN Act" (Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies) and similar efforts in Grand Rapids, Michigan, according to Hart's report to the board.

"When a person purposely racially profiles an individual in the community with the intent to infringe on a person's right to live their life and go about their business, it is most harmful and dangerous to the individual being reported and diverts crucial time away from the responding deputies to attend to real emergencies," the agenda report states.

Hart's report went on to note that such misuse of law enforcement "can further deteriorate community-police relations ... cause serious harm to the person being falsely accused of a crime and add unnecessary strain on law enforcement responding to the frivolous and meritless calls."

The proposed law would empower victims of such reporting discrimination an opportunity to take their false accusers to court, where judges would be able to levy fines up to $1,000, plus attorneys' fees and the costs of the action.

(c)2021 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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