New hotel law to aid police investigations

SOLANA BEACH — Attempting to help the Sheriff’s Department in its crime-fighting efforts, council members voted 4-1 at the June 12 meeting to approve an ordinance requiring hotel and motel operators to standardize information collected from guests at registration. 

In 2009 a sheriff’s unit uncovered a teenage sex trafficking ring operating out of a local San Diego County hotel.

During the investigation, deputies had difficulty getting information from hotels because there was no comprehensive, uniform record-keeping system and staff was uncertain about releasing the information, according to the staff report.

The Sheriff’s Department is asking each jurisdiction it contracts with to adopt a transient lodging facilities ordinance.

Under the proposed new law, hotel and motel operators must obtain the name and address of all registering guests, the names of anyone staying with them, the arrival date and time and the assigned room number.

A copy of the guest’s picture identification, the type, make, color and license plate number of the vehicle and the date and time of departure will also be required.

All information must be made available to law enforcement officers on request.

Other provisions include not renting the same room to another guest within an eight-hour period and contacting law enforcement if a room is rented to or occupied by a minor not accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Information must be saved for three years. Existing businesses will be notified by mail about the new law, slated to take effect at the end of July. New businesses will be notified when obtaining a business license.

Peter Zahn, who voted against the ordinance, said hotel operators should have been directly notified about the proposed ordinance.

“It seems that there is some overreaching here,” Zahn, a business attorney, said. “I’m concerned about adopting it without having (hotel operator) input.”

He also wanted to know if the requirements in the law are typical of the current registration process and whether hotels generally retain that type of personal information once a guest checks out.

“If it’s not typical, that’s a concern and I just have a general overall concern about privacy,” Zahn added.

“It allows us to review the names of people that checked into hotels,” Capt. Robert Haley said. “We don’t go in there to hassle people in hotels. If we see a crime trend we go in there and review the names.”

For example, he said, if there is a series of vehicle break-ins in a particular area, law enforcement will run the names of guests who stayed in surrounding hotels. He said they may discover the name of a parolee with a history of committing similar crimes.

“That’s somebody we’re going to talk to,” he said. “It’s been very effective for us.”

“This type of regulation has been upheld by the courts,” City Attorney Johanna Canlas said. “It’s been tested. We’re not going to be breaking new grounds on this.”

Solana Beach will be the fifth city in the county to adopt such an ordinance and the third of the nine cities contracted with the Sheriff’s Department.

 

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