Party crackdown and smokin’ slapdown

City councilors review disorderly events ordinance and ban smoking at City Plaza

What a difference a year and a half makes. That’s how long it’s been, give or take a few days, since the Chico City Council adopted the final version of its disorderly events ordinance.

Of course, approving the controversial law took the better part of a year, involved meeting upon meeting, adoption of the initial version, a petition drive to recall the rule, and then a move to rewrite it.

During the City Council meeting Tuesday (Oct. 20), Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney gave a brief and mostly innocuous report on the effectiveness of the policy designed to give police officers the authority to disperse unruly crowds.

His message was that it has worked, and there was little opposition to that position.

Chico police have used the law nine times for a variety of complaints—ranging from reports of fighting to out-of-control parties—in the south-campus region. Maloney pointed out that the incidents officers encountered when they enacted the ordinance would easily have justified a higher level of force.

One case, for example, involved hundreds of people spilling into the streets near the 700 block of West Sixth Street. During the incident, which Maloney said escalated into a small riot, revelers threw beer bottles at officers. His report showed similar acts of violence against officers in a majority of the nine police responses.

Maloney acknowledged that the scenario can tremendously alter the level of force used by officers. “We’re walking a very fine line sometimes,” he said. “We have to react. We have to react quickly. But we have to not overreact.”

Yet overreacting is exactly what a couple of people charged the police have done since the inception of the ordinance.

Longtime Chicoan and Tau Gamma Theta alum Charlie Preusser recalled watching an officer tackle a party crasher outside of the fraternity house at 980 W. Chestnut St. The man, who struggled and allegedly attempted to take the officer’s handgun, may face felony charges.

Preusser, who founded the fraternity in the late ’60s, questioned whether the man was aware during the encounter that it was a police officer who had tackled him, considering he was jumped from behind. Kevin Rys, a 21-year-old Chico State student, also witnessed the incident and echoed Preusser’s story. He then asked that the council not assume the police are using the ordinance properly.

The same sentiment was presented, albeit more diplomatically, by a couple of members of Chico’s chapter of the ACLU. Leslie Johnson, who sits on the group’s board, said she would like the Police Department to release a more thorough report stating the reasons why the ordinance was invoked. Richard Judkins, another board member, requested the council review the law at a later date.

By and large, council members, even those who were most skeptical of the law prior to its adoption, commended the CPD. Andy Holcombe said the police appear to be using it exactly as intended.

Acknowledging that some would disagree with him, Holcombe voiced his confidence in the police: “We have to trust our police department’s discretion to protect the public,” he said.

The other item at Tuesday’s meeting that elicited a response from the general public was a proposed ban on smoking in City Plaza.

Not a single person from the pro-smoking brigade spoke to the issue, which was surprising, given the number of personal-freedom advocates who weighed in heavily on a recent wood-burning curtailment ordinance proposed (and shot down) by the Board of Governors of the Butte County Air Quality Management District.

Council members Larry Wahl and Ann Schwab, who own businesses within 500 feet of the plaza, recused themselves from the matter, watching from afar as those remaining at the dais voted unanimously (5-0) to prohibit smoking at the park, including the surrounding sidewalks.

The vote followed testimony of representatives from the local American Lung Association. Christina Roberts, ALA health educator, gave an anecdote about families leaving the Friday Night Concerts because of second-hand smoke. More powerful, however, was the mother-and-son duo of Ursula and Morrison Parker, who stood at the podium, representing families in favor of the ban. The Chico mom noted that her son never met his grandmother, who died as a result of smoking.

• Other business at the meeting included the approval (in a unanimous vote) of a lease with Cingular that allows the company to place a radio antenna and equipment at the Chico Police Department. The cellular phone company will pay the city $18,000 each year (plus an annual 3 percent increase).

• Council members also spent a large chunk of the meeting toiling over whether to disband the Human Resources Commission, instead of renaming the group the Human Relations Commission and giving it the green light to serve as a community outreach forum on diversity. The commission was instituted in the late ’70s to review the city’s progress in creating a diverse workforce.

Arguments to dissolve the group included fiscal concerns and the fact that it had succeeded in its mission (since the city’s Human Resources and Risk Management has met its requirements under the federal equal employment opportunity plan). With Larry Wahl and Mary Flynn dissenting, a majority of the council agreed the group could provide valuable insight into issues of diversity and approved the commission’s plan to restructure.