California

It’s no longer a crime to refuse to help a cop after Gavin Newsom signed this law

If you witness a crime, here’s what to do

Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.
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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.

A legal vestige from California’s Wild West days is no more.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill striking down a law that makes it a crime to refuse a police officer’s request for help.

The California Posse Comitatus Act of 1872 made it a misdemeanor for any “able-bodied person 18 years of age or older” to refuse a police officer’s call for assistance in making an arrest.

Posse comitatus derives from medieval English common law, but saw widespread use in America’s early days, including as a tool of enforcement for the Fugitive Slave Act.

Senate Bill 192, sponsored by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, removes the law from the books. Hertzberg called the law “a vestige of a bygone era” that subjects citizens to “an untenable moral dilemma.”

The bill was opposed by the California State Sheriff’s Association, which said in a statement, “There are situations in which a peace officer might look to private persons for assistance in matters of emergency or risks to public safety and we are unconvinced that this statute should be repealed.”

Newsom did not issue a statement when he signed the bill into law.

The law was cited as recently as 2014, when the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office invoked posse comitatus in its defense during a lawsuit filed by a man and woman alleging they were deceived into responding to a dangerous 911 call on the office’s behalf.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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