Flanked by the city's police and fire chiefs, Los Angeles Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky offered a formal warning to business owners who turn their backs on people in need--as of Friday, their inaction could land them in jail.
A city law that took effect Friday orders business owners and employees to allow citizens to use their telephones in an emergency, or to place the emergency call themselves.
The measure, approved by the City Council in January and signed by Mayor Tom Bradley last month, was prompted by a Hollywood-area hit-and-run accident last year in which an elderly pedestrian was injured.
A witness ran to a gas station near the scene and asked to use the station's telephone to call paramedics, Yaroslavsky said, but the proprietor refused to allow the call.
Uses Phone in Car
Yaroslavsky drove by the accident scene moments later and alerted paramedics, using the telephone in his city car, the councilman said.
"It caused me to be concerned that with the climate of fear that some of our businesses have these days--and the paranoia that exists--that a citizen who wants to report a crime, wants to report a heart attack or some other kind of emergency shouldn't have to rely on having to find the nearest pay phone," Yaroslavsky said in a City Hall press conference.
Violators, who can be turned in by those who are refused cooperation in an emergency, face a fine of up to $500 and a six-month jail term. But city officials said they hope prosecutions will not be necessary.
"I really don't think this will lead to any kind of complaints being filed," said Police Chief Daryl F. Gates. "I think it will be a reminder to business people that they have a responsibility."
Yaroslavsky said he hopes the law "will be regarded as a reminder of the common standards of decency and courtesy that the citizens of Los Angeles ought to be extending to one another during times of emergency."
Since he introduced the proposal last year, Yaroslavsky said, he has learned of several similar incidents in which aid was delayed by lack of access to a business telephone.
The new law governs only the use of business phones during work hours. It does not apply to residential telephones.
Fire Chief Donald Manning said his department enthusiastically supports the new law because it will shave precious minutes off the time between an event and paramedics' arrival. He noted that a heart attack can lead to brain damage within five minutes--about one minute more than paramedics' typical response time.
Could Have Impact
"If someone has to start searching for a phone on which to make a call, it's going to measurably impact on the quality of life," he said.
The city officials lamented the idea that many people are unwilling to help out in an emergency. But the officials themselves recommended a measure of caution in dealing with emergencies. They urged business owners to place emergency calls themselves if their telephones are located in a remote area of their place of business.
"Do not let someone into the back room to make that call," Gates warned. "Make the call yourself."