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LAPD chief on Secure Communities: 'It tends to cause a divide'

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Los Angeles' chief of police is less than gung-ho about a controversial immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities, a federal fingerprint-sharing program that has drawn complaints from some law enforcement and state officials, while it is embraced by others.

During a radio interview yesterday with KPCC's Patt Morrison, the Los Angeles Police Department's Chief Charlie Beck expressed some of the same concerns that more vocal critics of the program have voiced, among them Sheriff Michael Hennessey of San Francisco. An excerpt from the Beck interview:

The thing that the San Francisco sheriff worries about, and that many people in Los Angeles worry about, is that it causes a huge divide between a large portion of our population. Because whether people agree with it or not, a large portion of L.A.'s population are immigrants, and many of them are undocumented.

So it tends to cause a divide there where there’s a lack of trust, a lack of reporting, a lack of cooperation with police. You know, I cannot prosecute crimes without witnesses...

Beck said that the federal program does not interfere with Los Angeles police's Special Order 40, which bars officers from inquiring about the immigration status of those they detain. He went on to say that while the ability to find and deport violent criminals is a benefit to the federal program, it's a detriment if it causes immigrants to lose trust in police, and that more transparency is needed.

Audio of the entire interview can be heard here.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has come out in favor of Secure Communities, writing supportively of the program in an opinion piece last month in the Los Angeles Times:

The program enables law enforcement agencies to identify criminals who are here illegally and allows the federal government to target those who have committed serious crimes for deportation so they no longer pose a threat to our communities.

Secure Communities allows for the fingerprints of people booked into local jails to be compared with those in a federal immigration database, with immigration authorities alerted if there is a match.

Immigrant advocates have complained that while the program is intended to net deportable criminals, many of those who wind up deported as a result don't have a criminal record. Among the program's individual critics have been people like Isaura Garcia, a woman who called the LAPD with a domestic violence complaint and wound up in deportation proceedings.

The California Assembly recently approved a bill that would allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of the program, something they are unable to do now.