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LAPD chief proposes limiting whom local cops can hold for deportation

The Los Angeles Police Department's Chief Charlie Beck
The Los Angeles Police Department's Chief Charlie Beck
Win McNamee/Getty Images

A California bill that would have limited local cops' cooperation with federal immigration authorities was vetoed Sunday by Gov. Jerry Brown, but Los Angeles' police chief announced today that he's voluntarily seeking a way to place limits on who the department holds for immigration officials.

In a press conference today, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck announced proposed changes to the way the department handles detaining immigrants. From a department news release:

In the spirit of keeping with the intended purpose of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities program (S-Comm) signed into law by the President of the United States September 30 2008, in which “ICE prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators,”  the LAPD is proposing to  no longer grant an ICE Detainer Request without first reviewing the seriousness of the offense for which the person is being held as well as their prior arrest history and gang involvement.

The Department is currently developing the list of criminal offenses which in its view do not meet the intended purpose of the S-Comm program (e.g. public nuisance and/or low-grade misdemeanor offenses).  

Under the new proposal, individuals arrested for one of these low-grade misdemeanor offenses will not be subject to continued detention on the basis of an ICE Detainer Request absent additional information from ICE and/or prior felony arrest(s), or if the individual is a documented gang member. The Department will still honor detention requests on all felony and high-grade misdemeanor arrests. 

The proposed new LAPD policy echoes a bill known as the Trust Act, which Brown vetoed Sunday night. Sponsored by Bay Area Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, it proposed restricting who state and local cops hold for immigration agents to only those with felony convictions or other serious criminal offenses on their record. The bill would have worked around the mandatory federal Secure Communities program, which allows fingerprints of people booked at local facilities to be shared with immigration officials. While the Obama administration has stated a goal of increasing serious criminal deportations, critics have pointed out that the program casts a wider net than intended, landing many non-offenders or low-level offenders in deportation proceedings.

In his veto statement, Brown explained his opposition to the Trust Act:

...I am unable to sign this bill as written. Under the bill, local officers would be prohibited from complying with an immigration detainer unless the person arrested was charged with, or has been previously convicted of, a serious or violent felony. Unfortunately, the list of offenses codified in the bill is fatally flawed because it omits many serious crimes. 

Law enforcement officials have been divided over Secure Communities, with some, including Beck, less supportive than others. On the other hand, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been a strong supporter. Baca was one of several sheriffs in the state who vocally opposed the Trust Act (which stands for “Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools.”) At one point, Baca vowed to continue enforcing Secure Communities even if Brown signed the bill into law.

Beck has expressed the concern voiced by opponents in law enforcement, which is that Secure Communities can impede policing by alienating immigrant communities. In an interview last year with KPCC's Patt Morrison, Beck said: 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. 

Once developed - and if it's approved - the new LAPD policy could go into effect by next January 1.