The Los Angeles Times reports that the LAPD is loosening restrictions on its officers’ ability to contact federal immigration officials, when officers suspect that felons have also committed immigration violations. This is a welcome move, which should empower LAPD to take more aggressive measures towards criminal street gangs filled with illegal immigrants.
The article reports that LAPD is rewriting guidelines interpreting Special Order 40, which places certain restrictions on officers’ ability to investigate immigration violations. The new language would allow LAPD officers to contact ICE (the enforcement arm of the former INS) officials when they believe there are felons here illegally:
The LAPD is working on language that would direct officers who see suspects they believe to be felons in the U.S. illegally to call their supervisors for a check with immigration officials, Assistant Police Chief George Gascon said. If a person is determined to be here illegally, federal authorities would seek an arrest warrant from a judge. At that point, LAPD officers could arrest the suspect.
Many will be surprised to learn that this isn’t happening already. But under current guidelines, LAPD officers are powerless to do anything as they watch known violent gang members — whom they know to be illegal — walking down the street with impunity:
Senior LAPD officials have been talking about creating clearer guidelines for Special Order 40 for years. But the issue came to a head several months ago in Hollywood.
A group of officers came face to face with a Mara Salvatrucha gang leader walking down the street, Capt. Mike Downing said. The officers believed that the man had been deported after being convicted in a string of violent crimes a few years ago.
There was a debate over what the officers could do. In the end, the LAPD decided to get immigration officials involved. Immigration and Customs Enforcement determined the man had reentered the United States illegally and received a federal warrant for his arrest.
Good for those officers. As it happens, their actions (and the new guidelines) are not prohibited by Special Order 40; they will simply bring Department practices and procedures in line with the order itself. Special Order 40 itself doesn’t go as far as many think it does.
It is popularly believed that Special Order 40 prohibits officers from even contacting immigration officials when they see a known illegal immigrant who is also a violent gang member. I was under this misimpression myself until a few months ago, when I complained about it to a friend at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. My friend is an innovative thinker who has rewritten local guidelines on enforcement of illegal reentry cases. His “fast track” and “super fast track” approach has made it possible to prosecute hundreds more people under federal immigration laws.
When I told my friend that I understood Special Order 40 to prohibit LAPD from contacting federal immigration officials, he told me: “It doesn’t.”
Turns out he’s right. The Rampart Independent Review Panel explains that Special Order 40, and official guidelines in the LAPD manual, do not prohibit officers from contacting immigration officials when illegals are arrested or detained:
The [LAPD] Manual does not bar an LAPD officer from notifying INS of the immigration status of a person arrested for a crime if the officer learns of that information. Further, nothing in the Manual actually bars an officer who is investigating an individual for criminal activity other than an immigration violation from asking that person about his or her immigration status and then advising INS.
However, interviews with then-Chief Bernard Parks and other LAPD officials revealed that the Department’s actual policies and prodcures are stricter than what is called for by Special Order 40 or the LAPD Manual:
Indeed, as articulated, the procedures are more restrictive than as written. First, LAPD officers are not supposed to ask individuals suspected of criminal offenses, crime victims, or witnesses, about their immigration status. Second, in practice LAPD officers do not notify the INS of the arrest of an illegal alien. Only after a person has been arrested, arraigned, and held in the county jail pending prosecution will his or her alien status be investigated by the INS, and that is in cooperation with the Los Angeles County Sheriff, not the LAPD. Thus, there is no reason for an LAPD officer to even ask a person who has been arrested for a crime about his or her alien status, although that appears to be permitted under the Department’s articulated policies and procedures.
The new guidelines will change this. They will ensure that officers on the street know what their authority is under Special Order 40. This is important, because the wording of the order is irrelevant if officers believe that policy prevents them from ever considering a suspect’s illegal status.
My friend in the U.S. Attorney’s Office says he has been working to get local police departments in the area to notify federal immigration officials when they are aware of suspected illegals who pose a violent threat to the community. Response has been tepid. I explained to him that, as far as the LAPD is concerned, this results from officers’ belief that they would be violating policy by notifying the feds. I told him that if he wants to change officers’ behavior on the street, he needed to get the higher-ups to tell officers that it’s okay to contact ICE.
From today’s article, it sounds as though this is happening.
Don’t get me wrong. I have previously said that I understand the purpose behind Special Order 40:
Law enforcement does not want otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants who become victims of crime to fear calling the police because of concerns about being reported to immigration enforcement officials. And in the past, some corrupt LAPD officers have abused innocent immigrants with threats of deportation. In my job, I deal often with victims of crime whom I suspect (or know) are illegal. The last thing I want is for them to think that I am going to call immigration authorities on them.
I stand by those words. However, it is also my belief that the primary focus of our immigration officials should be locating, punishing, and deporting those illegals who commit violations of state and federal criminal laws, in addition to their violation of immigration laws. The new guidelines will help law enforcement do just that.