Doing the Right Thing: How Chief Black Turned A Bad Situation into a Positive

landy_blackOn 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.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 Comments

  1. Phil Coleman

    This episode has several facets and one is particularly disturbing for us as a society. Why was it even necessary to legislate a requirement that handicapped people must receive assistance to purchase gas? One would think that a station attendant seeing a disabled person struggle with a gas purchase would simply give the necessary assistance without the threat of criminal penalty.

    Further, seldom do we purchase gas in a solitary circumstance. During the brief time we purchase our gasoline, there is usually one or more persons doing the same thing. Could there not have been another physically unimpaired customer come over and offer to pump the gas for the disabled person?

    Apparently, that is a naive and idealistic assumption, and if so, shame on us all.

    Speaking of shame, there is none to be assigned to the law enforcement community for not being aware of all the thousands of laws and ordinances they are required to enforce. This number increases in large numbers literally every year.

    Davis was singled out in this unfortunate incident, but perhaps we can take some comfort in the fact that the universal Davis law enforcement ignorance of this statute was caused by the fact that is was never previously necessary to apply it.

    Finally, the response by the Davis Police Department was exemplary. Not only was admission of the error quickly acknowledge and corrected internally, but also the obscure law was brought to the attention of law enforcement community throughout the State.

  2. anon

    . . . a station attendant . . .

    You mean the franchise owner’s cashiers, don’t you? A real, live person to pump gas has gone the way of the horse and buggy. (Well, except for Oregon, which bucks the national trend.) And before we all get too upset with this, B&P 13660 contains an exception big enough to drive a truck through:

    (3) Every person, firm, partnership, association, trustee, or corporation that, consistent with subdivision (b), does not provide refueling service for persons with disabilities during any hours of operation shall post the following notice in a manner and single location that is conspicuous to a driver seeking refueling service:

    No Service for Disabled Persons
    This service station does not provide refueling service for disabled individuals.

    There’s their sign – get out of jail free card – which seems easy enough for a station owner to justify, leaving the ‘mandated assistance’ to ordinary human beings, and of course the occasional beat cop.

  3. Barbara

    This is welcome news about the response of Chief Black — a true professional.

    I plead ignorance here, and I am probably not alone. I assumed that anyone capable of driving a car is capable of pumping gas. I look at my 85 year old mother as an example of this. Now that I know this is not the case when it comes to some disabilities, I wonder about how someone who “cannot easily get out of her car to pump gas” can get someone’s attention to pump the gas for her. While I pump my gas, I do not look at other drivers to see if someone might need assistance. If we lived in Mayberry, perhaps I would, but with our proximity to major freeways, I choose to be wary. Yes, shame on me I suppose. It wouldn’t hurt for all of us to be more aware of the needs of the disabled at gas stations.

    By the way, pregnant women should not be pumping gas either. When I was pregnant, I went to the full-serve station at 5th & G Streets if my husband forgot to gas up the car. I wonder if there is a law about helping pregnant women.

  4. Dont get this

    “Need more bike cops” Mike is right. We need more bike cops. Hmmmmm.
    Have to ask: General statement or because we may need them to on occasion pump gas??

  5. Hmmmmm...

    So did the cop help this disabled lady or not??? If yes, was it begrudging? If yes, then he should find another job – and I don’t care what the law is or isn’t. This was a no brainer – the cop should have assisted the lady without question, law or no law. Black’s handling of the situation was fine, but after the fact, and could be construed as damage control.

    If a gas station attendant does not have to help a disabled person, if the sign is posted that no such help will be forthcoming, what is a disabled person supposed to do? Are there gas stations that do provide full service, and it is the responsibility of the disabled person to scout them out?

    I guess my question here is what is the responsibility of the disabled person, not to get herself into a predicament like this?

  6. tansey thomas

    I used to go to the gas stations that had full service to get everything done even though I have a disabled placquard. Soon they all seemed to eliminate that service even to the disabled. I mentioned it to a few people but they did think it was a big deal. Thank goodness “Smitty” at the station at Covell and Anderson was quite willing to perform the service and pointed out they have a notice posted to that affect. He would not even accept a tip. Nobody I talked to knew if there was an ADA person in Davis who dealt with such concerns.

  7. Old Skool Davis

    I was particularly satisfied to hear Chief Coleman’s sage wisdom and remarks about the issue. We are fortunate to have his wise oversight in our community.

  8. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]Thank goodness “Smitty” at the station at Covell and Anderson was quite willing to perform the service and pointed out they have a notice posted to that affect.[/quote]My experience with Bill Smith at his Shell station, too, has been very positive. It’s too bad all service stations in Davis don’t have “service.” Bill “Smitty” Smith provides service.

  9. Freddie Oakley

    Speaking as one who spent nearly a year in a wheelchair due to a creepy bone disease (now remediated) let me just say that people in general were REMARKABLY unhelpful. (I know all caps = shouting, believe me, I’m shouting.)

    If you doubt for a moment that the Barbarians are at the gate, I’ll lend you my wheelchair and you can try to do any kind of business in Davis, California. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that you are stunned within hours. People wonder why I’m so gung-ho for the underdog? Well, it’s because most of us just beat up the underdog in various ways, and the underdog rarely has the gifts to bark for himself. Try being disabled mentally, physically or economically and get right back to me with all the milk of human kindness you receive. You’ll only need a very small container for it.

    You know who was helpful to me? Church people. My co-members at First Baptist Church of Davis, and people from other churches, synagogues and mosques. In those places, people bust a gusset to help. Makes you worry what a community without churches would be like.

  10. Sandy

    “I was wrong” are the three most important words in the English language – not “I love you.” I’m impressed that Chief Black took the time to get the correct information and that he admitted his error and passed his newly found knowledge on to his force. After all, this is how we learn.

    But I do want to point out one thing to the letter writer who was in a wheelchair for a year. On more than one occasion, I’ve asked a wheelchair-bound person in a store if I could help them reach something, and more often than not, they seem to be insulted by my offer. So I’m very careful not to offer assistance to disabled persons anymore. So many of them seem almost militant in their desire to avoid being viewed as unable to do things for themselves that I found it wasn’t worth my kindness anymore.

  11. Phil Coleman

    I must have missed a turn somewhere. Where does the appeal for more bike cops have relevance to disabled persons receiving assistance in getting gas?

    The posted disclaimer which allows gas stations to be exempt from the statute was news to me. I’m going to look for them now every time I stop for fuel. Can’t recall ever having seen one. I have seen the “self serve” postings, of course, and apparently they are very literal in their application.

    To the disabled persons (temporary or permanent) who related instances where people would not help them in a very simple task, I find this incredulous. Can we really be that distant and uncaring to an obvious need? Apparently so and this is most distressing.

  12. Mike Harrington

    Everyone is reading this article about police issues, and I just used it to put in my long time pitch for more bike cops downtown. We need at least 2 per shift, three shifts. Leave a car downtown so if there is a big emergency out of the downtown, the bike cops can jump in the cop cars and zoom to the emergency site. The two bike cops we have are wonderfully effective.

  13. Rich Rifkin

    In case anyone cares, this Vanguard article was linked to (actually republished in full) today by the website, publicceo.com ([url]http://www.publicceo.com/[/url]).

  14. Black Fan

    Reminds me of my reaction to the comments by President Obama on the Connecticutt cop snafu: Why should the President apologize for expecting a cop to apologize? Leadership is all about how you approach a problem and go about solving it. Chief Black is a role model for leadership. When you’re wrong, you admit it and use it as a way to improve the system for everyone.

  15. Barbara

    I noticed a sign on the gas pump at Costco today saying that state law dictates them to help someone with a disabled placard on their car. I asked the attendant about it and he told me that Costco’s policy is that anybody can get help at any Costco gas station for any reason. All they need do is wave to get the attendant’s attention or honk the horn. That answers my question about how a disabled person would get the attention of the attendant if s/he couldn’t leave the car easily. If I was pregnant, I would take advantage of this service at Costco.

  16. Alphonso

    A very positive response by the Davis Police Dept. My view is that a disabled person should be able to ask for help any time and any where and get help. This is something we can all gladly participate in. If you need my help just ask!

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