Yesterday, Boulder Daily Camera reporter Amy Bounds interviewed me about my experience at the 10th annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run, where 12 streakers were cited by police for indecent exposure. She used that information to expand her Camera story naming those cited — a list that included several local scientists and students. (I wrote about this yesterday.)
Bounds also added to her story a brief quote from Boulder police chief Mark Beckner:
“Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said indecent exposure was the charge that best fit the violation. ‘We don’t set the law,’ he said. ‘As police officers, we enforce it. We don’t get into the sentencing part of it.”
It doesn’t look like the Camera saw fit to push back against Beckner’s facile claim, which is unfortunate. Because the Boulder police did have another option here. They could have chosen to cite the streakers instead under Colorado statute 18-9-106. Disorderly conduct.…
This law begins:
“(1) A person commits disorderly conduct if he or she intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly: (a) Makes a coarse and obviously offensive utterance, gesture, or display in a public place and the utterance, gesture, or display tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace…”
Now, if the Boulder police want to consider a mass streaking event to be a “coarse and obviously offensive display in a public place,” so be it. It sure wouldn’t be fun to be busted for that, but it might be appropriate.
What’s inappropriate, unjust, and disproportionate is for public servants to hand out citations that, if upheld by a judge, would result in mandatory sex offender registration that wrecks people’s lives permanently — when the offense was not at all sexual in nature!
Again, let’s remember the context here:
- This was the 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run. This unofficial event enjoys widespread community support and tolerance, as evidenced by the large number of people who were present on the Pearl St. Mall last Friday specifically to enjoy it, and by the large number of runners. Also, in prior years Boulder police had chosen to confine their enforcement actions mainly to crowd management. (Beckner claims this was due to lack of staff in prior years — a questionable and verifiable contention.)
- This law enforcement action put posturing ahead of public safety. Beckner’s intent to position the Boulder police force as looking busy and tough is indicated by his own remarks to the Daily Camera, and to blogger David Thielen. Furthermore, as I told the Camera yesterday and blogged earlier, the jubilant mood of the Halloween crowd swiftly turned negative and potentially dangerous only when people saw the cops citing the streakers. By choosing this course, it’s fair to say that the cops actually manufactured a potentially dangerous situation.
- Streaking pales in comparison to other recent violent crimes in Boulder. As I also wrote earlier, on the very same day as — and only about a half mile from — the site of the Naked Pumpkin Run busts there were two remarkably violent crimes: a gang rape and a racially motivated beating. (No arrests in either case, yet.) These crimes were very much on the minds of people on Pearl St. to watch the Naked Pumpkin Run — I overheard many people discussing their concerns about them. In that context, choosing to crack down on streakers who enjoyed ample public support (and previous tacit police tolerance) shows remarkably bad judgment and timing.
Again, I’m not saying that the Boulder police should selectively enforce laws based on public opinion. However, I am saying this: If the cops view the Naked Pumpkin Run as some kind of threat to public safety, they clearly had at least one legal option to bust the streakers in a fair, effective, and appropriate manner.
Deliberately choosing a form of citation that can ruin people’s lives was grossly disproportionate. That’s not law enforcement; that’s bullying. And that’s not what our cops are supposed to do.