Council takes no action on SB-54

PASO ROBLES — After receiving nearly four hours of public comment Tuesday night, the Paso Robles City Council ultimately decided to take no action on SB-54, the California Values Act, also known as the “Sanctuary State” law.

The Council had considered opting out of SB-54, which prevents local law enforcement agencies from working in cooperation with Federal agencies to enforce immigration law, but instead decided to follow City staff’s recommendation and take no action.

“I think most of us will agree that SB-54 is a flawed document, but it is the law of the State,” City Manager Tom Frutchey said, adding that the Council’s actions would be largely symbolic, as they wouldn’t have much effect on SB-54’s implementation in the big picture, but could send a message to legislators at the State level. “Tonight, we really wanted to make sure that the Council and the community understand that we are really defining the type of community that we want to be as we go forward and to reflect the type of values that have made this community the great community that it is.”

Paso Robles Police Commander Ty Lewis, who will take over as the city’s police chief next month, said that he “could not report to the Council that SB-54 has improved community or state safety since being signed into law.”

“Law enforcement officers at all levels of government rely on sharing resources and information to accomplish our often-difficult jobs and assignments," Lewis said. "Laws that reduce communication and cooperation between law enforcement professionals are counterintuitive and contrary to our public safety ideology and our core values.”

Lewis went on to say that although SB-54 has “reduced the size of the toolbox” that police use to address some types of Federal-level crimes, it hasn’t had much effect at all on day-to-day operations. Lewis added that federal immigration-related crimes made up an extremely small percentage of the crimes that the Paso Robles Police Department deals with on a normal basis.

“You can rest assured that every police officer in Paso Robles remains committed to vigorously protecting all members of our community,” Lewis said. “Overall, SB-54 has not reduced our officers’ abilities to identify and arrest dangerous criminals, nor has it reduced our ability to work with prosecutors, hold suspects accountable, obtain convictions or bring justice to victims. Without question, our committed police officers are upholding their oaths to support and defend the California and U.S. constitutions."

Lewis’ presentation was followed by public comment from dozens of local residents along with California Gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen, who voiced his opposition to SB-54. Resident’s opinions varied wildly and were split evenly on the issue.

To a member, the City Council voiced the desire for a hands-off approach with SB-54 and called or the issue to be worked out in courts at the State level.

Council member Fred Strong pointed out that SB-54 only disallows cooperation between law enforcement agencies in the case of immigration law and said that the law lists thousands of violations that are exempt from SB-54 including nearly all forms of violent crime.

“SB-54 is saying to local officials, if they’ve committed a serious crime, any of hundreds, cooperate with the other jurisdictions and get them out of here,” Strong said. “I don’t see that that is in conflict with anything that anybody’s said here tonight. So I don’t even understand why we’re discussing SB-54 and I personally agree with the staff’s recommendation. It’s not a local matter.”

Councilman Steve Gregory, himself an immigrant from Argentina, echoed Strong’s call for a hands-off approach.

“This is a very difficult issue, but it’s not our issue,” he said. “We’re not an immigration enforcement agency, we’re here to protect our citizens. There may be parts of the law that we don’t like and we can write a letter and say that, but to fight the federal government or the State government is not our business. Our job is to keep our community safe. Our police department enforces the law to the full limits of their ability and they’re not restricted in any way, shape or form.”


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