Chief enforces the law -- helps make it, too

Modesto's top law enforcer is building a reputation as a lawmaker, too.

Police Chief Roy Wasden's department has three new ordinances working their way to the City Council.

The highest-profile proposal centers on a discussion his officers initiated to shape a downtown management plan that could create new restrictions on entertainment.

Another is modeled after a county ordinance aimed at curbing metal theft by asking recyclers to ensure they're not buying stolen goods.

One more would allow officers to cite bystanders at illegal street races.

They follow the City Council's March adoption of an ordinance the Police Department developed that makes it easier to punish adults who give minors alcohol.

Wasden said the initiatives proposed by his department are intended to flag policy concerns for elected leaders on the City Council.

"Ultimately, we look to our policymakers to say here's where it's going to be -- whether it's a new ordinance or a limiting factor for bars and clubs," he said.

Wasden's willingness to suggest policy changes earns him praise from council members.

"I want to see him bring things," Mayor Jim Ridenour said. "I'm not going to vote 100 percent with him or against him, and I'm sure as heck not going to run his department."

But others interpret the Police Department's proposals as an encroachment on the City Council's policy- making authority.

"I just don't like how they have such a hand in shaping public policy," said Greg Edwards, who organizes monthly independent music concerts downtown.

"I would like to see our City Council leaders be better leaders and have them shape the decisions as to what happens downtown," Edwards said. "They should have their own opinions."

Downtown restaurant and nightclub managers echoed those remarks at a meeting with police and council members a week ago.

"We are managing an economy here and it needs to be treated as seriously as that," said Chris Murphy, co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association.

City Councilman Will O'Bryant said the Police Department would not write the downtown plan on its own. He leads the council's Safety and Communities Committee, which gets the first look at police proposals.

That committee last week asked downtown business owners to help write the ordinance. Their recommendations are due in about three months.

"It's everybody working together," said O'Bryant, a retired Alameda County sheriff's detective. "When you have one section of government enforcing the laws, it's good to have them find solutions, too."

In contrast, other new ordinances in Stanislaus County developed after elected leaders, such as O'Bryant, responded to concerns from residents.

He led the city's push to implement rent control to protect senior citizens in mobile home parks after one landlord started a series of expensive fee hikes three years ago.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini took a similar course in April when he presented an ordinance he wrote aimed at deterring metal theft.

He said Sheriff Adam Christianson played a role in developing that ordinance.

"If the sheriff has a concern about anything, our door is always open, but the policy has to come from the Board (of Supervisors)," said DeMartini, who was persuaded to take up metal theft after hearing complaints from victims on the West Side.

Wasden isn't the only law enforcement leader in the area who takes a hand in advocating policy changes.

Manteca Police Chief Charles Halford is writing an ordinance to help his city get a handle on foreclosed and abandoned homes.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin frequently taps supervisors and state lawmakers to advance laws.

His highlights include lobbying the Legislature to pass a law requiring the state to relocate convicted sex offenders to the counties where they last lived before they were convicted of their crimes.

Pazin's lobbying helped push Cary Verse, a sex offender from Contra Costa County, out of the Merced home where he was living in the summer of 2004.

"Contrary to popular belief, we all work together in securing the quality of life here in Merced County," Pazin said. "If something is brought to our attention, we start the process of putting an ordinance together."

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.