On Friday I attended the Ripon GRC (Government Relations Committee) where I heard a report from our police chief concerning Assembly Bill 953 (AB-953). I was alarmed and decided to check into this to find out more. Chief Ormande is not given to being bombastic, so I was immediately concerned with his analysis of this bit of legislative chicanery. As it turns out, this bill, now before the California Assembly, is a direct assault on our personal freedom – specifically, the 4th Amendment – addressing unreasonable searches and seizures. Issued by Assembly Member Shirley Weber from San Diego, this paragraph provides a peek into the problem with this bill. It reads, “This bill would declare the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that revises the definition of ‘racial profiling’ and requires law enforcement departments to collect, analyze, and report data on individual stops in order to identify and eliminate unjustified racial disparities and bias.”
Okay, on the surface this all sounds really good. The tone in the country today toward law enforcement has been damaged due to Ferguson and Baltimore and other hot spots where clashes have occurred between police and the local citizenry. There are those who want to make sure there are no racist cops anywhere. So let’s pass another law!
I chatted with Chief Ed Ormande of Ripon, discussing the various aspects of AB 953. I wanted to make sure I had understood his comments about this assembly bill. He assured me that I had understood what he said just fine. Too bad. I was hoping I had heard wrong.
The Chief said that if this bill, which has already passed the Safety Committee, winds up passing in the Assembly, police officers will be required to ask Joe Citizen a litany of questions every time he is pulled over or simply questioned on the street. There are four questions the officer must address during this encounter. The answers may be determined by the process of talking to the individual, or a question may need to be asked.
Here are the four questions: the person’s sexual orientation; the person’s religious affiliation; the person’s mental and/or physical adeptness; and the person’s proficiency with the English language. Read these four again. What does this have to do with anything?
Officers will be required to ask and evaluate the person’s responses every single time they are required to speak to an officer on official police business. So let’s say you have a tail light out on your Chevy. The officer pulls you over. You go through the license/registration/insurance drill. No problem, right? You’re still wondering what you’ve been pulled over for. The officer tells you your tail light is out. “Phew!” you sigh. A fix-it ticket. No problem. Oh, but we’re not done! The officer must ask you some questions. It’ll just take a few moments. You're thinking, I resent this intrusion into my life. I know the officer is merely carrying out his duties, but something is wrong when my government is asking questions like this.
One of the issues the Chief told me is what the officer will be obligated to do if Joe Citizen refuses to answer the questions. I’m pleased to report that the California Police Chiefs Association has pushed back on this bill. I asked the Chief what that means exactly. He said the chiefs are asking their members, the sworn officers, to contact their state representatives to express their displeasure with this intrusive questioning.
Ripon’s Finest will be receiving “body cams” by the end of June. So even if an officer might be inclined to ignore the questions, he can’t because he’s live on camera. Every move and word is recorded.
If you are as irritated as I am with this heavy-handed manner being forced on our folks who are sworn to defend and protect the citizenry, then you need to contact your elected officials and let them know your thoughts.