In some Arizona cities, calling 911 several times a month may be grounds for eviction.
City officials often push such policies, often called nuisance ordinances, hoping to promote crime-free neighborhoods. But state Representative Celeste Plumlee (D-Tempe) argues they have an “unacceptable” side effect: They discourage victims of domestic violence and sexual assault from calling the police.
Her statute, House Bill 2612, scheduled to be debated by the House of Representatives Committee of the Whole today, aims to address that.
If passed, HB 2612 would prohibit cities, towns, and boards of supervisors from adopting or enforcing policies that punish victims for contacting the police about domestic or sexual violence. Officials also may not fine renters, block them from renewing lease agreements, or forcibly evict them based on domestic or sexual violence incidents.
“The bottom line is: We are talking about victims of a crime — not perpetrators,” Plumlee told New Times. “These people are being kicked out of their homes and fined because of something someone else did.”
Take Nancy Markham, for example. Markham, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, is suing Surprise because, in accordance with the city’s nuisance ordinance, police pressured her landlord to evict her or risk being an “agent” of any future crime committed on the property.
Authorities cracked down because Markham had called 911 multiple times over the course of seven months when her ex-boyfriend attempted to strangle her, threatened her with a gun, and stole her car, according to court documents. In letters to the city, neighbors had complained that they, as one correspondent put it, were “tired of having the police on our street for the same thing over and over.”
Will Gaona, a policy director at the ACLU Arizona, called Plumlee’s proposal “an improvement.”
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However, he argued that nuisance ordinances should be prohibited altogether.
“This protects the victims of domestic violence from nuisance ordinances,” he said. “But what about the victims of other types of crimes?”
Policies that place limits on 911 calls are a violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees people the right to petition the government for “redress of grievances,” or to seek help without fear of punishment, he said.
“We obviously want victims of crime to call for assistance as needed,” he said.