In California, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart is proposing a new law to prohibit and punish racially motivated or discriminatory 9-1-1 calls.
The Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office proposed the law, which would allow victims to sue their false accusers, to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors.
The board recently held a first reading for the ordinance, which would make it illegal to report an alleged crime to law enforcement “solely to discriminate against the person” when there is no real threat present to the person reporting.
Under the law, individuals who make false and discriminatory police reports could be taken to court by the victim and fined up to $1,000 in addition to court fees.
According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, California state law prohibits hate crimes and false police reporting, both of which may be punishable as criminal activities. The new ordinance would combine the two.
Hart’s report to the Board of Supervisors said his goal was to reduce the number of calls just based on the targeted person’s race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity as “a real public safety concern,” which were knowingly made and unwarranted.
The report wrote that the calls are not only harmful to the victim, but distract law enforcement from attending to real emergencies.
“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.
Supporter Natalie Fermin told KPIX 5 that the goal of the ordinance is to reduce the number of racially motivated calls to law enforcement, while not discouraging calls for legitimate purposes.
“We’re not trying to stop that. People have to make calls when something’s wrong. But it wouldn’t be bad if people thought twice and were aware of the entire situation,” she said.
A sheriff’s office spokesman said that while there hasn’t been a rise in local cases, the department is trying to keep abreast of developments across the country.
“While there has not been an uptick in local cases that we are seeing, there are instances where we’ve seen this over the past several years,” spokesperson Ashley Keehn said. “We want to get ahead of this to make sure our community knows it’s not something we will tolerate.”
Hart’s report also pointed to high-profile cases in the national media and steps that other agencies across the country have taken as model examples, including San Francisco’s 2020 “CAREN Act” (Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies).
Under the ordinance, if responding deputies determine that someone called 9-1-1 because of a racial bias and not a legitimate concern, then the victim could have the option to seek civil damages.
The ordinance may be scheduled for a final vote as early as September 28, and if approved, become effective a month later.