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Anaheim Wants Accused to Pay for Police Work

Times Staff Writer

The Anaheim City Council has given preliminary approval to an ordinance that would allow the city to bill people who are accused of crimes for the cost of the police work--even if they are acquitted.

But the proposed ordinance was criticized by defense attorneys Wednesday as unconstitutional.

“It sounds like the police officers’ fair employment act,” said Richard Hirsch, a Santa Monica lawyer and former president of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, an association of defense attorneys. “It’s taking away people’s rights and liberties. I don’t see how it can be justified.”

The City Council gave the ordinance preliminary approval Tuesday by a 5-0 vote and without discussion. A final vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

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Under the ordinance, the city would compute costs and bill the accused even if criminal charges are not filed or are dismissed or if the person is acquitted. If the person does not pay, the ordinance allows the city to file a civil lawsuit to collect the money.

Officials say the measure could save the city millions of dollars each year for the costs of investigating, apprehending and prosecuting suspected criminals. They argue that taxpayers should not have to pay for the actions of wrongdoers and that the measure may act as a deterrent.

Several cities in the state have sought to shift the burden of paying for police services from the taxpayer to the accused. Newport Beach, for example, recently joined several other Orange County cities in enacting an ordinance that imposes a $500 fine on a homeowner when police have to respond a second time to a loud party or disturbance. Several cities have passed ordinances that allow them to recover costs from drunk-driving suspects or from hosts of loud parties when neighbors call police.

But some legal authorities said the Anaheim measure goes too far.

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“It offends my notion of the presumption of innocence; it offends my notion of due process of law. I have enormous problems with it,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, a USC professor of law. “My guess is that it is a trend sparked by governments at all levels trying to deal with the budget crisis. In many cases there will be no constitutional objections to these efforts.”

Thomas Nolan, a Palo Alto attorney and president of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, was even more outspoken:

“It’s pure politics. It’s not a practical solution to the problem of paying for services, It’s a solution the voters would like to hear. It’s not workable.”


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