Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The tragic killing of a young African American teen last spring in Los Angeles provoked much talk about the Los Angeles Police Department Special Order 40, which limits police power to inquire into citizenship status of witnesses, victims, and suspects. Other cities, such as San Francisco, have seen similar controversies over law enforcement policies toward immigrants.
Kristina Campbell, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, submitted this report on the Los Angeles City Council's recent hearing on Special Order 40:
On October 27, the Public Safety Committee of the Los Angeles City Council held a hearing regarding Councilman Dennis Zine’s proposed amendment to LAPD Special Order 40. Special Order 40 is a policy enacted by the LAPD in 1979 which states that it is the official policy of the LAPD that its officers not enforce federal immigration laws. Although the policy of the LAPD has always been to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in the course of enforcing state and local law when necessary, the department also recognizes that it is imperative that members of the community not be afraid to contact local law enforcement because of fear of repercussions related to immigration status. Thus, Special Order 40 was issued nearly 30 years ago as the official policy of the LAPD, stating that department officers do not have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws in the course of their local law enforcement duties.
In April 2008, Councilman Zine proposed an amendment to Special Order 40, which if adopted would have required the LAPD to verify the immigration status of “known gang members” and to place an immigration hold on such persons until they can be transferred into ICE custody. This amendment was offered by Councilman Zine in response to the tragic death of Jamiel Shaw, a promising young man who was allegedly murdered by an unlawfully present gang member mere hours after his release from the LA County Jail on another criminal offense. Although the individual who allegedly murdered Mr. Shaw was in the custody of the LA County Sheriff – not the LAPD – and Special Order 40 had no bearing on the policies that led to his release, his death precipitated a call from members of the community to either repeal or modify Special Order 40. Thus, Councilman Zine offered his amendment, which was opposed by many civil rights groups on the basis that in addition to not having jurisdiction to enforce federal immigration law, the LAPD would inevitably engage in racial profiling if it were required to determine the immigration status of “known gang members” in the course of routine criminal investigations and that community trust and effective policing would be undermined with such a policy.
The hearing held by the Public Safety Committee on October 27 featured presentations from many LAPD officials on the efficacy and purpose of Special Order 40, including Police Commissioner Andrea Ordin, Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz, and former Police Chief Daryl Gates. The officials made it clear that Special Order 40 does not prohibit the LAPD from working with ICE when appropriate, and that the department is in the process of embarking on a large-scale effort to train all officers regarding how to properly and uniformly enforce Special Order 40. Councilman Zine also repeatedly stated that the purpose of the hearing in front of the Public Safety Committee was to clarify the widespread misunderstanding of what Special Order 40 does and does not authorize for both the LAPD and the general public so that everyone understands exactly what the department policy is going forward.
The hearing concluded with the Committee delaying a vote on Councilman Zine’s proposed amendment, and directing the LAPD to prepare a report for the City Council regarding its plans to train officers regarding Special Order 40. The Committee also directed the LAPD to include in its report an explanation of how the department communicates with the Sheriff’s Office and County officials regarding the handling of criminal suspects who are believed to be undocumented immigrants, and stated that the Committee would like to hold another hearing in the future in which the Sheriff’s Office is available to offer testimony.
For an LA Times story about the City Council meeting, click here.