California Governor Signs a Bill That Allows Citizens to Say No to Assisting Police Officers

September 4, 2019 Updated: September 5, 2019

Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom, on Sept. 3, signed a bill that no longer requires any able-bodied person over the age of 18 to help an officer who requests assistance during an arrest.

The California Posse Comitatus Act of 1872 was used in the days before there was a centralized police force. Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Los Angeles Democrat who sponsored the bill, called the old law a “vestige of a bygone era.” Hertzberg press secretary Katie Hanzlik said that Sen. Hertzberg told his staff to “take a look into bills that were still on the books that were antiquated or no longer needed.

This one fit the description, and it also happens to be that the senator has a history of supporting or passing laws that minimize unnecessary fines and charges against Californians.

SB192 reads, “The law makes an able-bodied person 18 years of age or older who neglects or refuses to join the posse comitatus or power of the county, by neglecting or refusing to aid and assist, as described, in making an arrest, retaking into custody a person who has escaped from arrest or imprisonment, or preventing a breach of the peace or the commission of any criminal offense, after being lawfully required by a uniformed peace officer or a judge, guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to punishment by a fine of not less than $50 nor more than $1,000.”

“This bill would repeal that provision and make conforming changes.”

The origins of the law can be found in pre-civil war America and although obligatory in nature, the law fostered a sense of citizenship and service to the community.

According to Cambridge.org, “In antebellum America, as in pre-industrial England, it was commonplace to witness civilians accompanying sheriffs and justices, scouring the countryside in search of scoundrels, scalawags, and other law-breakers.

“These civilians were the posse comitatus, or uncompensated temporarily deputized citizens assisting law enforcement officers. At its core, the posse comitatus was a compulsory institution. … Despite its coercive character, though, the posse was widely understood as one among many compulsory duties that protected the “public welfare.” Americans heeded the call to serve in local posses, explained jurist Edward Livingston, because of communal “ties of property, of family, of love of country and of liberty.”

The Sacramento Bee reported that the California State Sheriff’s Association said it is “unconvinced that this statute should be repealed.”

And a spokesman for the California Police Chiefs’ Association said that the organization has “flagged” the bill but has not yet taken a stance.

Governor Newsom did not issue a formal statement after signing the bill, however, the progressive lawmaker has been very vocal about what he sees as a biased judicial system. “It’s just incomprehensible to me that we have a system that is so biased, so random, so unbelievably racially biased,” Newsom told The Marshall Project in August.

Newsom has historically supported liberal policies like the issuance of temporary reprieves to more than 700 inmates on California’s death row in March 2019.

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