Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tragedy Causes Review of LAPD Policy

Seventeen-year-old Jamiel Shaw was a Los Angeles High School student and football star. Last month, someone who thought Shaw was in a gang gunned him down near his home. The Los Angeles Police Department reports that the suspected gunman was a member of the 18th Street Gang, and possibly unlawfully in the United States. Jamiel's father asked the L.A. City Council to overturn Special Order 40 -- at least for gang members -- a guideline that keeps LAPD officers from asking about the immigration status of people they've arrested. To read and hear the story on this case, click here.

This story is a very sad one.  my heart goes out to the Shaw family.  However, effective law enforcement will suffer if the local police enforce the immigration laws as well as the criminal laws.  The reason that the LAPD -- not known for being soft on crime -- has its current "don't ask, don't tell" policy is to ensure that all residents (undocumented or not) feel comfortable in cooperating with the police.  This is essential to effective policing and law enforcement.  Whatever their immigration status, witnesses and victims must feel that they can provide information, report crime, and otherwise work with local police.  If they fear local police, fewer crimes will be reported, witnesses will not report crime, and the job of local police will be even more difficult than it currently is.

P.S.  According to the L.A. Times (April 11), LAPD officers would be required to report gang members found to be undocumented immigrants to federal authorities under a proposal introduced in the Los Angeles City Council. The proposal, by Councilman Dennis Zine, a former LAPD officer, would result in a closer relationship between the department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and is likely to generate controversy. The plan comes amid a new debate over Special Order 40, a Los Angeles Police Department rule that defines when officers can inquire about the immigration status of suspects. The 29-year-old rule is a cornerstone of the department's policy toward immigrants and is designed to encourage undocumented residents who are victims of crimes or witnesses to cooperate with police without fear of deportation.

UPDATE (April 18):  Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton has said that the department's policy dealing with undocumented immigrants was widely misunderstood. Bratton strongly defended the basic intent of Special Order 40, which prohibits officers from initiating contact with individuals for the sole purpose of determining whether they are illegal immigrants.

Monicavarsanyi Monica Varsanyi, a professor of the School of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State, defended the LAPD policy in the L.A. Times:

"The LAPD's reluctance to make it easier to ask individuals about their immigration status before arrest is in keeping with the views of the overwhelming majority of the police chiefs we surveyed. Allowing L.A. officers to check the immigration status of known gang members before arrest would certainly take some of them off the streets. But as the chiefs in our surveyed cities worried, becoming more of an arm of ICE would likely send a chill through immigrant communities, decrease trust between police and vulnerable residents and sacrifice overall public safety."


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