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LAPD Chief Beck: 'Immigration is not the job of local law enforcement'

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck joined AirTalk Wednesday to answer questions about challenges the LAPD might face from the federal government if the department does not follow stepped up enforcement of immigration laws.

Beck said nothing would change in how the LAPD deals with people in the country illegally. As is the case with all municipal police departments, it is not obligated nor resourced to look for people living in the country illegally. 

"I depend on them to be witnesses to crime, I depend on them to report crime, I depend on them to support the police department," Beck said on Airtalk, "and none of that is as likely to happen if we become an arm of immigration enforcement."

The chief also talked about criticism and praise over the policing of protests against Donald Trump in recent days, as well as racial profiling and the repercussions of the newly passed Props 57 and 64.

Interview Highlights

On deportation enforcement

Beck: We will continue to work with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] where it's appropriate but also to maintain the posture that we've maintained for decades now, which is that immigration is not the job of local law enforcement... that it is the job of the federal government [...]

It is to the detriment of local law enforcement if we were to venture into that arena, and that's because no matter whether you think it's right, wrong or indifferent, the reality is that there are over 500,000 people in Los Angeles...that are undocumented immigrants and they are a portion of the population that I police...I depend on them for support, I depend on them to be witnesses to crime, I depend on them to report crime, I depend on them to support the police department. And none of that is as likely to happen if we become an arm of immigration enforcement.

On whether LAPD currently holds people who are undocumented and have felony convictions for ICE

Beck: No, we will not. What we will do is we will make ICE aware that we have this person in custody and if agents come before the release time or at the release time, they are available for them at that time.

On criticisms regarding racial profiling of African-Americans

Beck: We focus as a society way too much on race in these issues ... The primary determining factor about whether someone's going to go into the criminal justice system... is not the color of their skin, it's their degree of education. It's not who their parents were, it's whether or not they have access to jobs, whether or not they have access to health care, whether or not they have access to housing...

On preventing racial profiling

Beck: We do it through education, we do it through our anti-bias training...we do it through the selection of police officers, we do it by making sure our police officers represent the people that we serve.

On the L.A. Police Protective League's criticism of LAPD's supervision of the anti-Trump protests

Beck: Wednesday night was a difficult night, we were spread across the city with multiple incidents... it's a balancing act, so we had to spread our resources. I think the command officers that were in charge that night did a good job. What you saw was Los Angeles Police Department controlling thousands of people and in the end making arrests legally, without excessive force.

On the legalization of marijuana

Beck: This is going to create an additional layer of danger for motorists... It's going to become really important that people do what we've been doing with alcohol and pick designated drivers or recognize that if you're feeling anything, then you are impaired and do not drive [...]

We adapted to the medicinal aspects of marijuana and we'll adapt to this... The hardest thing for your listeners is going to be... the way that we all live, with legal cannabis shops and legal cannabis cultivation and all that goes with it.

On fears that more pot shops, which are cash-only businesses, could cause an increase in robberies

Beck: The fact that it's a cash business, that makes it attractive for crime... We need to, as a society, find a different way to transfer funds.

On the passage of Prop 57, which is expected to lead to the release of thousands of “nonviolent” felons

Beck: It's not easy to make it into prison in California. People think it is but it takes a significant track record to go to state prison, especially now with [Prop] 47 where so many crimes are handled within the county system. Once somebody gets there, then I think we should be very diligent about their suitability for release and I hope that our parole system will be able to do that.

On what constitutes a “nonviolent” crime

Beck: Folks would be shocked at the definition of "nonviolent" crimes and I see that back and forth between the governor and the DA's about who's responsible for that definition... Hopefully our parole system will recognize which crimes are truly nonviolent and which are not.

Interviews have been edited for clarity. Hear the full discussion by clicking the playhead above.

Guest:

Charlie Beck, Chief, Los Angeles Police Department; he tweets @LAPDChiefBeck