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SF supe gets tough on racially-motivated 911 calls in proposed CAREN Act

San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton wants to discourage people from calling 911 to report people of color going about normal activities. 

Walton Tuesday introduced legislation that would make it unlawful to call 911 to make fraudulent or petty, racially-motivated reports, citing recents incidents where people were reported for simply exercising or barbecuing.

One such caller, later dubbed as “Permit Patty”, called 911 to report a 8-year-old child selling water bottles in The City. The girl was trying to raise money for a Disneyland trip.

In Alameda, police responded in May to a 911 call about a black man who was just exercising and dancing on the street.

In The City, a Filipino man was seen stenciling “Black Lives Matter ” on his own home last month in Pacific Heights. A couple passing by called police to report the man.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Walton said:

“911 calls and emergency reports are not customer service lines for racist behavior, and using these for fraudulent reports based on the perceived threat of someone’s race takes away emergency resources from actual emergencies.”

Ching Wong/SFBay Supervisor Shamann Walton speaks during a Justice for George Floyd rally at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 1, 2020. (Ching Wong/

Walton’s proposal, titled the Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies (CAREN) Act would make violations enforceable and expensive — the minimum fine for damages would be no less than $1,000.

He added:

“California law makes false police reports a misdemeanor or felony offense punishable by up to six months in jail. But there are currently no consequences by law for people who make fraudulent emergency calls based on race.”

The proposed legislation is not meant to discourage residents from reporting actual emergencies, but instead focuses on protecting communities of color who are often the victims of fraudulent reports, Walton said.

On the state level, Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Oakland introduced Assembly Bill 1550 that would classify discriminatory 911 calls as a hate crime and would entitle the harmed individual to sue for damages valued between $250 to $10,000.

Bonta said at a press conference:

“We’ve seen 911 weaponized and used against communities of color unfairly, unjustly.”

Bonta’s bill is currently at the Public Safety Committee and Walton’s proposed legislation will likely be heard at the board’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee 30 days after the bill’s introduction.

Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Catherine Stefani, Dean Preston and Norman Yee are cosponsors of the proposal.

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