Justin Jouvenal, Washington Post, September 28, 2021
Fairfax County police have stopped publishing a weekly arrest blotter after county officials found it violated a policy that restricts the dissemination of personal information that could aid immigration enforcement.
Immigrant rights and civil liberties groups had been pushing for the change, arguing the weekly compilations that include arrestees’ addresses and other details could allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to target immigrants for deportation and raise privacy concerns.
But open-government advocates and some politicians have criticized the move, saying it decreases police transparency and keeps critical safety information from the public, including details about some violent, sex and property crimes.
In a statement, ICE said that its “Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) does not use police blotter data to identify immigration enforcement targets in Fairfax County, Virginia,” and that officers use “intelligence-driven leads to identify specific individuals for arrest.”
Fairfax County police said it will continue to proactively release details of arrests in serious crimes, including homicides, shootings and offenses committed by those in positions of trust. Virginia residents will still be able to file Freedom of Information Act requests to get details of other arrests but will have to pay a processing fee.
News outlets often use the blotter to guide reporting, and neighborhood groups use them to stay abreast of crime trends and offenses in a particular area. The crime blotter has been a staple at many departments in the D.C. region and around the country for decades.
Fairfax County police said the disclosure of arrestees is required by the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), so the information cannot be restricted altogether. The department will continue to publish crime statistics and a weekly highlight of a selection of serious crimes.
The group ACLU People Power and others began lobbying for the change in arrest reporting after the county Board of Supervisors adopted a “Trust Policy” in January. The policy requires the county to cooperate with ICE when mandated by state or federal law but otherwise restricts the county from releasing the personal information of county residents that ICE could use to conduct immigration enforcement. The policy was a response to stepped-up ICE activity during the Trump administration.
In 2020, Fairfax County police also enacted a policy of barring officers from asking someone about their immigration status or giving information to ICE that would help it locate immigrants for deportation.