Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ensuring Accountablity for Public Safety

At last night's City Council meeting, I made a motion to delay a vote on an important amendment to our City codes so that we could slow down and make sure we are doing everything we can to better protect our communities.

At yesterday's meeting, City Staff introduced a resolution that would amend San Mateo's City Code to make all violations of the Code enforceable as either infractions or misdemeanors.

I support the concept of allowing our City Attorney more flexibility in dealing with violations of our City  Codes as either infractions or misdemeanors.  In today's complex world, there are unfortunately times where the City needs the ability to protect our communities through the use of misdemeanor citations.

In my opinion, however, the ordinance offered yesterday empowered too broad a group of City employees to issue citations for misdemeanors.

While infractions are non-criminal citation which carry fines in the range of $100-$500, misdemeanor citations are criminal violations punishable by fines of up to $1000 and imprisonment of up to six-months in the county jail.  Furthermore a person cited for a misdemeanor violation may face arrest and booking procedures at the discretion of the person who cites them. 

Under the new ordinance, employees such as code enforcement officers or building inspectors with no formal training in law enforcement would be empowered to issue misdemeanor citation.  In my opinion, this is simply too much power in the hands of government. 

I believe that the power to charge someone with a misdemeanor crime should be limited to the City Attorney, sworn police officers, the Fire Chief  and Fire Marshalls (in the case of issues involving fire safety), the City Manager, and City Department Heads. 

By limiting the power to issue misdemeanor citations to the above individuals, your City Council and city  staff can remain more accountable to the public in the judicious use of police power. 

I therefore made my motion to delay action on this ordinance until we can further review, discuss, and consider the issue.  I am pleased to report that my motion was approved on a 4-1 vote.

Moving forward, I plan to stay involved in this issue to ensure that our City is able to fully protect our residents or communities without granting overly-broad powers to City employees.  Protecting the civil rights of our residents is equally as important as enforcement of the law. 

I welcome your view and discussion on this very important topic.  Please feel free to call me or email me if you'd like to talk about this issue. 

To view the staff report on this issue, click here

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