August 3, 2020

CAREN Act to Address Racist 9-1-1 Calls

A San Francisco legislator seeks to deter individuals who abuse 9-1-1 to report incidents that suggest that a person’s race is their purpose for placing the call. The recent tensions over racial equality have produced an increase in 9-1-1 calls across the nation where callers with a racially motivated bias falsely report an emergency and identify a person of color as committing the crime. Shamann Walton, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, on July 7th introduced the CAREN Act, a local ordinance that would impose fines on individuals placing these false emergency calls.

The ‘Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergency’ Act, shortened to CAREN Act, is intended to support California Assembly Bill No. 1550 which revises the state’s Civil Code and is currently sitting in committee. Bill No. 1550 actually expands on existing legislation on hate crimes. The individual identified as a potential suspect in a 9-1-1 call that is deemed to be racially motivated would be considered a victim for the purposes of determining if the crime is a hate crime. Additionally, if the 9-1-1 call is determined to be a false report that was racially motivated, the call would be considered a hate crime and punishable under the state’s hate crime penalties.

While filing a false report via 9-1-1 is already a criminal offense, there are currently no ramifications for false reports that were racially motivated. This is an interesting twist on 9-1-1 calls where law enforcement agencies may need to more closely scrutinize calls where the incident is being reported by a third party. The intentions of the caller may need to be considered when it is determined that the actor is a victim and not actually a suspect.

“Racist 911 calls are unacceptable that’s why I’m introducing the CAREN Act at today’s SF Board of Supervisors meeting. This is the CAREN we need. Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies,”

– Shamann Walton

During the Board of Supervisors meeting Walton said both measures “are part of a larger nationwide movement to address racial biases and implement consequences for weaponizing emergency resources with racist intentions.”

The CAREN Act would be a local ordinance applicable to the City and County of San Francisco. The Board of Supervisors is the legislative body within the City and County governments. The ordinance is currently pending board approval.

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