LAPD Chief: Cops Shouldn’t Tag Immigrants

William J. Bratton, Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2009

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Keeping America’s neighborhoods safe requires our police forces to have the trust and help of everyone in our communities. My nearly 40 years in law enforcement, and my experience as police commissioner in Boston and New York City and as chief in Los Angeles, have taught me this.

Yet every day our effectiveness is diminished because immigrants living and working in our communities are afraid to have any contact with the police. A person reporting a crime should never fear being deported, but such fears are real and palpable for many of our immigrant neighbors.

This fear is not unfounded. Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that 11 more locations across the United States have agreed to participate in a controversial law enforcement program known as 287(g). The program gives local law enforcement agencies the powers of federal immigration agents by entering into agreements with Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Although many local agencies have declined to participate in 287(g), 67 state and local law enforcement agencies are working with ICE, acting as immigration agents.

Some in Los Angeles have asked why the LAPD doesn’t participate. My officers can’t prevent or solve crimes if victims or witnesses are unwilling to talk to us because of the fear of being deported. That basic fact led to the implementation almost 30 years ago of the LAPD’s policy on immigrants, which has come to be known as Special Order 40. The order prohibits LAPD officers from initiating contact with someone solely to determine whether they are in the country legally. The philosophy that underlies that policy is simple: Criminals are the biggest benefactors when immigrants fear the police. We can’t solve crimes that aren’t reported because the victims are afraid to come forward to the police.

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The Police Foundation published a report in April titled “The Role of Local Police: Striking a Balance Between Immigration Enforcement and Civil Liberties.” The report confirms that when local police enforce immigration laws, it undermines their core public safety mission, diverts scarce resources, increases their exposure to liability and litigation, and exacerbates fear in communities that are already distrustful of police.

The report concluded that to optimize public safety, the federal government must enact comprehensive immigration reform. {snip}

Working with victims and witnesses of crimes closes cases faster and protects all of our families by getting criminals off the street. We must pass immigration reform and bring our neighbors out of the shadows so they get the police service they need and deserve. When officers can speak freely with victims and witnesses, it goes a long way toward making every American neighborhood much safer.

William J. Bratton is chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. The Police Foundation’s report is available online at http://www.policefoundation.

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