By LaKeshia Myers
“So get up get, get get down 911 is a joke in yo town..” while these are the lyrics of an old Public Enemy song, some individuals do believe calling 911 is a joke. A few weeks ago, a Waukesha woman called the police because she was dissatisfied with her chicken sandwich at a KFC. This should have been handled civilly, not with police intervention. This is precisely why Sen. Lena Taylor and I introduced legislation that would make it a crime to unlawfully summon a law enforcement officer. This bill would charge an individual with a Class C misdemeanor if they cause a law enforcement officer to arrive at a location for a reason other than suspected criminal activity should the other person pose no risk of danger or threat of personal property.
Nicknamed the “BBQ Becky Bill”, the legislation aims to curb frivolous calls to law enforcement, which are seen as a public nuisance and waste of taxpayer resources. The moniker references a 2018 incident involving a California woman who called police on a family having a picnic in a local park. The woman, Jennifer Schulte, called police because the family used a charcoal grill, and not a gas grill to barbeque. The family was subsequently detained for an hour before police decided not to issue a citation.
It is my hope that this legislation helps us preserve our police resources as well as a protective measure to serve the general public. The bill asserts that if the other person’s contact with the law enforcement causes infringement of the other person’s constitutional rights; unlawful discrimination against the other person; a groundless legal process to be initiated against the other person; the other person to feel harassed, humiliated, or embarrassed; or damage to the other person’s reputation or standing within the community. The bill also creates a civil cause of action in which a plaintiff may recover damages from a person who unlawfully summons a law enforcement officer.
Public safety officers are a resource that we must use wisely; when officers are frivolously contacted, this diverts time and resources that could be used to solve and deter actual crime. We must ensure that individuals who utilize 911 and call the police are doing so for actual emergencies. Attaching a misdemeanor to the abuse of these services reinforces to the public that we take public safety and the safety of our residents seriously.
There has to be a degree of responsibility when one contacts the police; there needs to be a valid reason. Doing so flippantly can cause undue harm, danger, and stress to individuals involved—especially when those involved are people of color. In order to ensure our police officers are able to respond to real crimes, individuals who unlawfully contact law enforcement must be held accountable and prosecuted for abusing public resources. Local municipalities cannot afford to waste valuable police resources on imprudent irrationality.
To learn more about the “BBQ Becky bill” please contact Rep. LaKeshia Myers’ office at (608) 266-5813 or Sen. Lena Taylor’s office (608) 266-5810.