Texas OKs forced evacuations

August 1, 2009 at 8:58 pm Leave a comment

published August 1, 2009
Calcasieu officials say that’s never a good idea
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

A Texas law set to take effect Sept. 1 gives law enforcement officers the right to use “reasonable force” during a mandatory evacuation.

The law, sponsored by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, does not give a definition of “ reasonable force.” Carona told The Associated Press the law could be of use “in removing children, the elderly or infirm from unsafe situations.”

In Louisiana, there is no law in place to force residents to leave their homes, regardless of the situation. But both Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon and Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said they make sure their officers explain the consequences of remaining.

“The resident is told that at some point they could be cut off from all parish services,” Mancuso said. “That means no police, no fire or medical services and that they are staying at their own risk.”

Dixon also said his officers won’t force anyone to evacuate.

“We can make sure residents without transportation get to a shelter or a bus going north,” Dixon said. “But they are also told when we go to code red (winds are above 40 mph) we can’t send someone out to help them.”

Dixon said that in “extreme cases” — where a person may have a mental illness and pose a danger to themselves or others — an officer can take a person to the hospital for evaluation.

“I think our Legislature had explored some type of option (to compel evacuation), but they scrapped it,” Mancuso said. “And in my opinion, it really seems unenforceable.

“For instance, if we have 200,000 people in the parish and 40,000 decide to stay, I don’t see how we have the manpower to make all of them leave.”

Mancuso said the only thing he could think of would be to file charges afterward, because arresting people is also out of the question.

“We empty our jail and send our prisoners north, too,” he said.

Dixon agreed with Mancuso’s assessment, saying a department could also be put in a position to be sued after the fact.

In rationalizing the lack of a definition of “reasonable force,” Carona said the law is meant to be a tool for Texas law enforcement officers to use at their own discretion.

Sgt. Mark Kraus with the city said the law enforcement definition of “reasonable force” when a suspect is resisting “is to use a greater force than what is being exerted upon the officer.”

“And I just don’t see it as logical for an officer to be in a standoff with someone trying to get them out of their own property,” Kraus said.

link: http://bit.ly/qBQX6

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