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911 Calls Motivated By Racial, Ethnic Bias May Be Outlawed In Santa Cruz County

SANTA CRUZ (KPIX) -- The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of a new ordinance that makes it illegal to call 911 or law enforcement on someone because of bias.

The new law creates civil penalties -- up to a thousand dollars — against anyone who reports someone to law enforcement because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or other legally protected classes.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office proposed the ordinance to the Board of Supervisors. Supporters say the goal is to reduce the number of racially motivated calls to law enforcement specifically and not to discourage people from using 911 to report legitimate concerns.

"We're not trying to stop that. People have to make calls when something's wrong. But it wouldn't be bad if people thought twice and were aware of the entire situation," says Natalia Fermin.

Others however worry that people will be penalized for doing exactly what law enforcement has long encourage the public to do — to report anything that seems or anyone who seems suspicious.

"Think about this you see someone, think they're suspicious, call the cops and it turns out they weren't doing anything wrong and they happen to be a person of color. Most people are going to feel even worse if it's a person of color," says Louis Eisenberger.

Under the ordinance, if responding deputies determine the reason someone called 911 was based on bias and not a legitimate cause for concern then the caller potentially would left vulnerable to a civil lawsuit. According to the new law, the person who had the police called on them would have to elect to pursue civil damages.

The Sheriff's Office says their proposal was about fairness and justice and not having the public second guess when to call for help.

"I feel like anybody should be allowed to call 911 if you have a definite concern," says Aiko Shallenberger.

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