Reno bans use of whips downtown; sound resembles gunfire
RENO, Nev. (AP) — The Reno City Council has banned the possession and use of whips without a permit in the greater downtown area after police reported a steep increase over the past two years of 911 calls from residents who mistake the sound of a cracking whip for gunfire.
Whips are a part of daily life in many rural areas where ranchers and livestock operators use the sharp “crack” produced when the whip’s tip breaks the speed of sound to scare and direct or herd animals.
The council voted 6-1 to approve the new ordinance Wednesday.
Police recommended banning their use downtown because the sound resembles that of shots being fired from a firearm, Reno Police Chief Jason Soto said. He said they’re also being used in public areas for fights and intimidation.
“We just realized it was a growing complaint we were getting. We started to see calls that were being escalated and becoming more violent,” Soto said earlier. “There’s a time and a place for a lot of different types of activities. I think being in the middle of a group of people is probably not the best time.”
Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus cast the only “no” vote. She said she wants the ordinance applied city-wide and expressed concern that the ban targets certain demographics, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
Lily Baran spoke against the ordinance earlier on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. She said that the homeless community is known for using whips for self-defense and that the ordinance will “perpetuate the criminalization of the unhoused.”
She added that she wished city council members would spend more time discussing and evaluating community care rather than enforcing laws that displace homeless people.
City attorney Karl Hall explained on Wednesday that the ordinance is restricted to the downtown area because complaints to the police were concentrated in that area. He added that there may be areas outside of downtown where whips may be useful. He said that those who have a legitimate use for a whip downtown can receive a permit.
Complaints about whips have nearly doubled since the beginning of 2020, police said. They received 63 calls for service involving the use of whips from January 2019 to September 2019.
The number grew to 103 from January 2020 to September 2020 and the department has received 176 whip-related calls since then, the city’s staff report said.
The new ordinance states that it is illegal for anyone to possess, carry or use a whip in the downtown corridor without a permit.
It also states that it is illegal for anyone to crack a whip to “injure, annoy, interfere with, or endanger the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others” within city limits. It doesn’t apply to private property.