Police see orderliness in ordinance

John Rucker is a captain with the Chico Police Department.

Editor’s note:
As noted in Downstroke and Days of Lore in the Sept. 6 issue, the Chico City Council approved a “disorderly events ordinance” 4-3, despite some unanswered questions and public uncertainty. It won’t become law unless the council certifies its decision at Tuesday’s meeting (Sept. 18).

The proposed “disorderly events ordinance” that Chico police recently submitted for City Council approval has created an unintended controversy. We appreciate the invitation by the CN&R to explain the ordinance and the motivations behind it.

The City Council asked the Police Department to formulate new legal “tools” that would help maintain public safety at “out-of-control parties.” This direction was a result of the council’s concern about the increase in violent crime in our community and incidents where officers were being injured and/or attacked at large events.

Over the years we have compared ideas and strategies with many other large college communities. After some “false starts,” we settled on an ordinance with which the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office was having success in Isla Vista, where most UC Santa Barbara students reside. We made minor changes and introduced the ordinance in July.

“Disorderly events” are defined as those events where three or more of a listed set of misdemeanor crimes have occurred, or one felony crime has occurred. After input from members of the Chico community, the prohibitions on slam dancing and crowd diving that appear in Santa Barbara’s ordinance were removed.

Chico’s ordinance would make it an infraction violation for any person at an event where crimes are occurring who does not follow the directions of police to leave the area. This is a lower-level enforcement than the existing misdemeanor “unlawful-assembly” state laws now used (Calif. Penal Code 407, 408, 409).

Our goal is to be able to compel attendees of unsafe events, where crimes are occurring, to leave the area without having to raise our enforcement to the misdemeanor level. Raising enforcement to that level can result in criminal arrests and cause the formation of a “mob” mentality, which we try to avoid. Using our usual “low-key” approach to gain voluntary compliance with the ordinance is our goal.

The ordinance will set a clear community standard that criminal activity will not be tolerated. The ordinance will also set up a significant amount of peer pressure among attendees to keep their friends safe and lawful.

Just as we already use our discretion to determine when to enforce state laws, we ask citizens to trust us to exercise that same discretion when enforcing this municipal code.

If a citizen feels that she or he has been improperly issued a citation, the court process will decide if it is an error. If a person is not issued a citation but feels we should not have shut down the party, then we have an easily accessible citizen complaint process that they can utilize.

On behalf of my agency, I thank you for your support.