Disorderly process

In the Guest Comment in this issue, Chico police Capt. John Rucker writes that the purpose of the city’s new “disorderly events ordinance” is to enable officers to deal with out-of-control events—student parties, mostly—using a “low-key” approach that doesn’t involve making arrests and suffering the resultant hostile reaction.

That’s an understandable goal. Too often officers, while trying to arrest people at a raucous party, have been pelted with bottles and worse.

But should the police be given the ability to shut down gatherings based solely on their say-so? The pending ordinance specifies that, if officers see three or more violations of state laws or city ordinances, they can declare an event “disorderly” and shut it down. They don’t need to arrest anyone or even issue a citation to do so. “Circumstantial evidence … shall be sufficient,” the ordinance reads.

This is a level of officer discretion that makes us uncomfortable, and we’re not alone. As the terms of the ordinance become better known, more and more people and groups—including the board of the North Valley Property Owners Association, whose members provide much of the housing for students—are expressing concern that it overreaches.

Part of the problem is that the ordinance was drafted behind closed doors and never presented in a public forum for debate and discussion by the affected parties—students and their landlords, in particular—before going to the City Council.

The council still has time to get the community behind this ordinance—or one that accomplishes the same thing. The ordinance will go before the council for final reading and adoption Tuesday (Sept. 18), at which time the council can send it back for reworking, including more public discussion. It should do so.