For more from David Greenwald, visit the Vanguard Web site

On the Vanguard, we often focus on the negative – offering criticism to public entities for their service to the public and acting as a watchdog.  For much of the early years on the Vanguard, we were critical of the Davis Police Department.  At the same time, we have often stated that things have improved under the leadership of Chief Landy Black who was hired in early 2007.

Recently, I was a first hand witness to a situation that could have been very negative, but because it was handled promptly, became a net positive for all involved.

In early June, I received a Facebook message from a friend of mine who lives in Davis.  She had been a former colleague of mine at graduate school at UC Davis.  Earlier in the year, she was in a very serious automobile accidence.  At some point she was able to drive, but had a handicapped sticker and could not easily get out of her car to pump gas.  In the old days that would not have been a problem, but most gas stations have eliminated full service.

She had to commute to work each day, but for whatever reason Davis was more difficult to get assistance than elsewhere.

One day she had a very negative experience and she sent me this message:

“Here is a Davis story for you…I went to get gas and asked for handicap help…a law in CA.  The cashier couldn’t help me, so I asked a cop who happened to be there getting coffee with buddies..and he argued that there is no handicap assistance law for gas.  I was in tears before he agreed to help.  I called channel 3 news, they may do a story on it…News desk says you can pull up law easily using google and all I was required to do was have handicap permit displayed, which I did.  Only in Davis have I ever had trouble getting gas…now I know why, if cops don’t even know it is a law, why should citizens are stations even care about helping?  I think I might get a formal copy of the law and drop it off at the police station, just so they can be aware the law does exist!!!”

As soon as I got the message, the first thing I did was forward it to Chief Landy Black, who I figured was in a far better position to help my friend than I was.

Here was his first response.

“First, let me say that something being “the law” doesn’t make it a police issue and something a police officer would know anything about or have any power to enforce (any more than they might know the law regarding Franchise Tax Board rules or agricultural laws, for instance). The law is not one of the Penal Code variety. So it doesn’t surprise me that our police officer wouldn’t know about that law. I only recently learned of this rule/law myself by virtue of watching a TV news story about just this subject. It is an administrative code that would be handled by whomever in State government deals with ADA issues.

However, that being said, two things I can offer:

1) You might refer your friend to Teri Spiritosanto, a City of Davis Social Services Coordinator who handles the City’s ADA issues. She may be able to ensure that there is greater enlightenment in our community in general or specifically with the fuels vendors.

2) I will make sure that this important issue and embarrassing circumstance is shared with the staff here so that the next time something like this arises we might be better informed and more quickly responsive.”

While not a bad first response sent to me just 21 minutes after my initial email, it turns out the Chief was not correct about the police department’s obligation under the law.

The next day, I got the following email from Chief Black, and I should add that both he and my friend gave me permission to report on this.

“I have found that I was wrong. Seems everyone here at the PD was uninformed on this issue. Under the Business & Professions Code, alleged infractions, such as what you brought to our attention, are to be brought to the attention of local law enforcement to investigate. If determined to have occurred, the violator is to be cited for the infraction. (Increasing fines based on number of prior infractions.) There are requirements for signage and exemptions for one-person operations and the like. (The one-person exemption seems to be an acknowledgment that there should not be an expectation that a cash register be left unattended.)

Sorry that we let our ignorance show. Frankly, there are just a lot of laws out there–many of which we are rarely, if ever called upon to take action on. We are going to add this law to our Field Training Modules as well as annual refresher training. Plus, we think that since we weren’t aware of our obligations on this, that the California Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) ought to be alerted with a recommendation to put a state-wide emphasis on this training.

I have also been in touch with Teri Spiritosanto and she will be putting together some sort of training or information piece for all City employees based on this discussion. Though, it appears that she was already well-informed and was preparing to disseminate information on the subject even before you brought it to our attention.

We have communicated with your friend, the lady who did not get the assistance she deserved, apologizing for the mishandling. We haven’t heard back from her yet, if we even will, but we hope she can forgive our error.”

In fact that was not the end of it, Chief Black did alert the California Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training (POST) about the issue.

A month later, Chief Black forwarded to me a response letter from Paul Cappitelli, Executive Director of POST.

“Thank you for your email expressing concern for the need to raise the level of awareness to the enforcement of Business and Professions Code § 13660.

As you already know, legislation that impacts the law enforcement profession is collaboratively monitored by POST staff along with a group of California law enforcement associations. Despite this diligence, it appears that enforcement requirements of B&P § 13660 went unnoticed.  Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

I have directed staff to incorporate training content pertinent to §13660 into the next regularly scheduled Case Law Today video update which will be disseminated to law enforcement agencies statewide. Presently, POST is awaiting the response to a request for an analysis of this law from our Case Law Today presenter Justice Bill Bedsworth (CA Court of Appeals, Santa Ana) for legal guidance on this training topic.”

Chief Black also informed me that he received a number of emails and phone calls thanking other departments thanking him for bringing the issue to this attention.  Chiefs from Redding, Pleasanton, Gilroy, and the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department all were thankful for the information because they were unaware of the problem.

As Chief Black put it:

“In short, we all got caught unaware of a Business and Professions code with peace officer applicability. Thanks for helping us get it right. I know a lot of people may potentially benefit from greater officer awareness of this provision in the law.”

One of the problems here was that while the legislature passed the law, they never sent a formal letter to POST make them aware that law enforcement had the primary duty to enforce it.

Needless to say my friend went from feeling very negative about the experience that she had received to feeling very positive that the police department was so responsive to her concerns and took steps above and beyond the call of duty to remedy the problem and prevent it from happening to someone else in the future.

To me of course law or no law, it would be common sense to help an individual in that condition.

There were very serious concerns about the Davis Police Department going back to 2006 and really well before that.  In recent months, we have seen from the words of the former Chief Hyde that many of those problems clearly stemmed from a lack of leadership.  I do not want to imply that every problem has been resolved, it is certainly within the realm of human nature to make mistakes, but for the most part people are judged not by the mistakes they make but by how they handle those mistakes and in this case, the Chief and his department deserve great credit for appropriately responding to situation that could have bred negative feelings and turning the situation into a net positive.

For more from David Greenwald, visit the Vanguard Web site