The new bill repeals the California Posse Comitatus Act of 1872, which made it a misdemeanor to refuse a request for help from law enforcement.
Earlier this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom overturned a law that made it a crime to refuse to help a police officer. To rephrase that in a less tangled manner, this essentially means that you can legally refuse to help a police officer in the state of California. The law in question, called the California Posse Comitatus Act of 1872, made it a misdemeanor for "an able-bodied person 18 years of age or older" to refuse a request for assistance from a police officer "in making an arrest, retaking into custody a person who has escaped from arrest or imprisonment, or preventing a breach of the peace or the commission of any criminal offense."
The law was commonly used to form posses to hunt down outlaws, but was repealed in State Senate Bill 192, first introduced in January this year by Senator Bob Hertzberg, who had tasked his interns by identifying outdated laws. Hertzberg called the law “a vestige of a bygone era” that subjects citizens to “an untenable moral dilemma,” The Sacramento Bee reports. "Thank you to my interns for finding a law that belongs in the history books, not the law books," Senator Hertzberg said.
The bill was opposed by the California State Sheriff’s Association, which said in a statement, “There are situations in which a peace officer might look to private persons for assistance in matters of emergency or risks to public safety and we are unconvinced that this statute should be repealed.” Cory M. Salzillo, the legislative director for the Association, told CNN that State Senate Bill 192 sends a message that discourages cooperation with law enforcement authorities and goes as far as creating a notion that citizens should not assist law enforcement. "We are unfamiliar with concerns with this statute other than it was enacted many years ago and carries a fine for a person who disobeys it," the CSSA said in a statement in June. "There are situations in which a peace officer might look to private persons for assistance in matters of emergency or risks to public safety and we are unconvinced that this statute should be repealed."
According to The Sacramento Bee, the law was cited as recently as 2014, when the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office invoked as a defense during a lawsuit filed by to citizens who alleged that they were deceived into responding to a dangerous 911 call on the office’s behalf. Newsom did not issue any statement or comment upon signing the bill into law.