The Arizona Desert Lamp

Tucson’s Been Tagging You Too Long (To Stop Now)

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 7 August 2009

In the comments, former Wildcat editor Nickolas Seibel helpfully points out a 2004 Tucson Weekly piece detailing the practice of the Red Tag policy, which is far older than its associations with the University:

Tucson’s unruly party ordinance dates back to 1996, when the City Council imposed a 120-day red tag on offending properties, with subsequent and graduating fines if problems continued. Last February, the council bumped that up to 180 days, and allowed officers to issue a $100 citation on the first visit. If there are further offenses–such as having more than five people at the party house over those six months–fines can reach $1,000.

The cops defend the policy by saying that it’s “extremely effective” and “the number one way” to address the problems associated with partying. I don’t doubt it – just as I don’t doubt the assertion that adhering to the principles of the Fourth Amendment allows some criminals to get off scot-free. Yet this is hardly an argument against the principle of due process. In a free society, the rule of law always trumps the enforcement of the law.

The story is one of the Weekly‘s better ones, and you should read the whole thing. This, however, is an important point:

As a result, the ACLU has filed suit on his behalf. The red tag is violation of Haggerty’s right to due process, says Angie Polizzi, staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona. In other words, he’s being punished with a scarlet letter before enjoying his date in court. “And we think it’s harassment, trying to impose responsibility on landlords, who really aren’t responsible” for parties on their property, Polizzi says. “The police can always cite somebody for disturbing the peace. But to go after the landlord … then the red tag stays on the property for 180 days–even if the tenant who caused the problem moves out.”

The case was dismissed in federal court, the court order of which can be read here. Yet the case wasn’t dismissed due to the merits of the red-tag program, but due to the fact that the issue was moot – the red-tag was issued in 2003, but the suit wasn’t filed until 2004. This was the only issue that the Court discussed in its decision, ignoring outright the debate over the policy itself. That’s actually a good thing – it means that this policy still has a chance of going down. Often, though, civil liberties groups run into problems finding plaintiffs, those who have standing and can cite direct damage from the issue at hand. If anyone reading this site does get a red tag this semester, we highly recommend that you at least give ACLU-Arizona a call, as soon as possible. Until then, there is little hope of ending the policy.

Perhaps prompted by this case, the TPD Citizens Review Board also filed a letter questioning the policy, in March 2004:

It appears that since many of the residents in ODM are college students they receive most of the red tags. This begs the questions: why are so many red tags given to students? Is it because they refuse to comply with a warning?

The best evidence that college students are willing and responsible enough to comply with a warning is highlighted by the same statistics provided by Captain Washington. By examining the number of repeat locations within the divisions we noted the following rates of repeat violators: ODS 11%, ODE 11%, ODM 9%, and ODW/ODD 8%. Surprisingly, the rate in ODM is lower than those in ODS and ODE. This data suggests that residents in ODM are less likely to be cited a second time than residents in ODE and ODS. Once college students are given a citation and, hence, made aware their conduct is causing a disturbance, they take the initiative to prevent a disturbance a second time. It is probable they would do this after a verbal warning versus a red tag citation.

Why, then, are warnings not given more often before issuing a red tag? Not only would this save students the hassle and consequences of a red tag in the first place, but it would foster a better relationship among students and officers.

All that being said, this casts the UA in an even worse light than before. In 2004, the Weekly published this article, detailing the ramifications of the policy as they were applied to a 16 year old’s birthday party where the mother was present, at a house rented by an former city councilman. The policy was contested by the ACLU, but was dismissed without addressing the civil liberty concerns. The review board was convinced that the policy punished college students disproportionately, and that warnings should be used in their place. The university, however, was unperturbed by such issues, and went though with a policy that linked the Dean of Students direcly with the Tucson Police Department, in the name of expanding the scope of the ostracism associated with what should be a simple civil infraction. Instead of helping their students to resolve issues civilly, the UA chose instead to throw the book at them.