Chief gets broad new powers for July 4 rally

Hollister
– The city council approved three ordinances this week giving
police increased power to maintain security during next month’s
annual Independence Rally and other city events and assemblies. The
Fourth of July rally is expected to draw about 100,000 motorcycle
enthusiasts to the city.
Hollister – The city council approved three ordinances this week giving police increased power to maintain security during next month’s annual Independence Rally and other city events and assemblies. The Fourth of July rally is expected to draw about 100,000 motorcycle enthusiasts to the city.

During Monday’s council meeting Hollister Police Chief Jeff Miller ask councilmembers to approve special rules and regulations that could be necessary to protect public safety. The council responded by unanimously adopting three permanent ordinances that apply to all public events and assemblies in the city, including the Independence Rally, granting Miller broad new powers.

One ordinance authorizes the chief to “adopt and enforce any rules or procedures … that the chief determines to be necessary for the protection of health, safety and welfare.”

Last year, Miller brought the ordinances before the previous city council, which declined to pass them.

“I don’t really know why,” Miller said. “It was a different council.”

He cited no incidents in last year’s rally that prompted his request for the additional powers. “It was a really peaceful rally,” he said.

While Miller said he doesn’t have any specific rules that he plans on imposing for the rally, he said that issues of access, parking and traffic might arise that would require impromptu rules so things run smoothly.

“It’s not blatant authority to make new laws,” he said.

“Last year we had an eating establishment with a long line blocking the sidewalk and traffic,” Miller said. In that instance the restaurant owner complied with police requests that he move the line so traffic would not be blocked. But, he said, this year police will not have to rely on voluntary compliance; they can create a rule dictating how people can gather.

Some worry that such broad authority may be used to impinge on people’s free assembly rights.

“Our concern would relate to the police chief creating different rules at different times for different groups,” said Mark Schlosberg, an attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union’s San Francisco office.

The ordinance giving the chief expanded authority to make rules will be useful for squelching potential conflicts before they start and maintaining overall safety at the event, according to Councilman Robert Scattini.

Councilwoman Monica Johnson sees the ordinance as a way to prevent potential problems before they start.

“If we didn’t look at prevention, if something bad happened, people would be upset and say, ‘why didn’t you prevent it,'” she said. “The way I interpret it is if you’re in a situation where it’s a life threatening situation, you won’t have to wait 30 minutes to get the okay from the city manager or the council.

“I have no reason to believe he (Miller) will take advantage of the authority,” she added.

Another ordinance approved by the council Monday prohibits rally attendees from carrying objects that could be used as weapons – such as tools, wire or pepper spray – into the event area.

“It’s a preventative measure,” Miller said. “These items – hammers, wrenches and metal case flashlights – are being used more and more as weapons.”

If a person is spotted carrying such an object, police will likely just ask them to take the object out of the event area, Miller said.

“We’re not looking to make criminals out of everyone,” He said. “We look for compliance.”

But, according to Miller, if a person is carrying such an object and police suspect he intends to use it as a weapon, consequences might be more severe.

“If we see two or three people armed with wrenches and hammers marching off somewhere, it may be an indication of a bigger fight.”

Council members also approved an ordinance giving police the authority to search containers and trailers brought into the event area by vendors.

The authority to search vendor containers in the event area, according to Miller, will help police ensure that vendors are not sleeping in their trailers – which is illegal – and that potentially dangerous items, such as fuel and propane, are stored and used properly.

The ordinance does not give police the authority to randomly search rally attendees, Miller said.

Scattini said he is wary about the ordinance allowing police to search vendor containers and trailers, and worries that just searching some of the trailers, rather than all of them, will upset vendors who may feel they are being unfairly targeted.

“It opens a can of worms,” he said. “We’re going to get complaints. If you do one camper, you should do them all.”

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