In a split vote, the City Council agreed Monday to pass the cost of multiple police visits to loud parties onto the offending party's host. The ordinance will take effect in 30 days.
Here's how it will work: When deputies break up a party, they will give the host a warning. That warning will explain that if deputies arrive again within 12 hours, the host will have to pay the cost of their return visit.
It could mean an extremely expensive bill if the next visit requires helicopters or police dogs, City Attorney Bill Curley said.
He said it's legally defensible because the new ordinance is civil in nature—not criminal.
Councilman Dave Leckness, who voted against the ordinance, said he would prefer the host receive a citation rather than a bill for police service.
Making a citation would confuse an officer's role as enforcer of the law with a crime witnesses's role as complainant, the city attorney said. By issuing the host a penalty rather than a citation, Curley says this ordinance sidesteps this potentially unconstitutional problem.
Councilwoman Trish Kelley, who proposed the law, said it will be a deterrent to bad behavior that will free police to fight more serious crime.
"One way to deter behavior is to provide a financial penalty," she said. "Do we want our police officers to have to go back to parties more than one time when somebody could be breaking into my house?"
Here's part of the Monday exchange:
Kelley: "The reason I like to ask for the costs we're providing is it's cost recovery. We're not fining. If we bring in a helicopter or a dog, this is all additional—"
Leckness (interrupting): "You think that would be OK to send them a bill for a helicopter?—"
Kelley (interrupting): "I think you're blowing things out of proportion. I don't think deputies call in the helicopters just for the fun of it."
Captain Chris Wilson: "We would go out to Coto (de Caza) for huge parties that had to be broken up. Sometimes it's by air… and we're throwing a lot of resources just to break up a gathering, a large gathering of people."In July, Police Chief Wilson counted 94 police calls to confront noisy neighbors and loud parties. Of those, 22 were broken up on the first visit. During another 14 calls, deputies had to make return visits. Three of those were to the same residence in one night, Wilson said.
He said the ordinance would be welcomed by police:
"It's just another tool. We carry anywhere from 40-50 extra bullets on our belts. Twenty years as a peace officer, I've never had to use one, but deputies out on a Friday, Saturday night, they would appreciate having that tool because they have a feeling, is this three or four people out on the patio being too loud for their neighbors, or are the streets lined with cars?"
"Thousands of calls a month and we're talking about 14 calls," Leckness said.
"When you have no other choice, this would be a tool," Wilson said. "Just like when you want to come out of your car, without your hands up, I may have to use one of those 45 bullets."
Kelley said the ordinance provides an appeal if a host feels he or she has been wrongly billed.
Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht, who also voted against the ordinance, said it was unconstitutionally vague.
"What is too loud?" she said. "The standard would vary from officer to officer or partier to partier. I'm concerned that this is skirting around the constitution. Without defined standards, it's unconstitutional."
As a civil procedure, not a criminal one, the law doesn't have to have the burden of proof the Constitution requires, Curley said.
Councilman Frank Ury said a similar law could have allowed the county to pursue the cost of rescuing two hikers lost last spring in Trabuco Canyon. One of those hikers later admitted to possessing methamphetamines.
He said the county tried and failed to charge the hikers for the rescue costs.
"Guess what, they couldn't do it," Ury said. "Why? Because they didn't have something like this in place."