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LAPD scales back its participation in Secure Communities

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told the L.A. Police Commission that his department is changing its policy toward the federal Secure Communities program.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told the L.A. Police Commission that his department is changing its policy toward the federal Secure Communities program.
Toby Canham/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Police Department will no longer detain some undocumented suspects on behalf of federal immigration authorities, the L.A. Police Commission decided Tuesday.

The commission made that change at the request of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. He told commissioners that L.A. should lead the way in correcting flaws in the federal Secure Communities program. Under that program, local law enforcement agencies automatically share fingerprints of anyone they arrest with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE then has the option of asking police to detain arrestees for 48 hours so the immigration agency can begin deportation proceedings.

LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore told the Police Commission the program is ICE's "primary engine for the identification and removal of criminal aliens and others who pose a threat to public safety." But the LAPD's six-month survey of ICE detetainer requests indicated that 10 percent were for people who had no criminal histories and were arrested on suspicion of low-level nuisance crimes like drinking in public or sidewalk vending. Based upon the department's survey,  about 340 fewer people would be detained each year.

Under the new policy, the LAPD will not honor detention requests for people accused of low-level misdemeanors - those that carry a bail amount of less than $5,000. Last week, California's Attorney General Kamala Harris cleared the way for local police departments to make such changes. In her legal opinion, she announced, ICE's detention requests are just that—requests, not orders, that police may decide whether to honor or decline.

Local authorities may still detain anyone accused of a higher level crime or who has a criminal history on behalf of ICE. That disappointed some immigration activists who pointed out that the change doesn't protect all criminally innocent people from deportation. 

Jose Oselo Gonzales, a day laborer, told the Police Commission he was arrested after a man who'd hired him for a day refused to pay, called police, and accused Gonzales of trying to rob him.

"When I went to court, they told me my charges had been dropped," Gonzales said. "But I was taken back to jail and deportation proceedings began."

Cases like that, ACLU Staff Attorney Jennie Pasquarella said, represent a serious flaw that the LAPD's new policy does not solve. If officers arrest a person on suspicion of a crime, but later drop the charges, that person's already been reported to ICE. The problem can be especially acute in domestic violence cases in which police or sheriff's often arrest suspected abusers and victims. 

Throughout the country, Pasquarella said, "a lot of solutions have gone a lot further" than the LAPD's policy change. Cook County, Illinois, for instance, no longer participates in Secure Communities.

At the request of the Police Commission, the LAPD said it'll look into the issue of deportations after the agency's dropped charges. Generally, by the time that happens,  a person has already been transferred into the custody of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, which decides whether to detain him or her for ICE.

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca recently announced that he'll also change his department's policy on Secure Communities. He hasn't released details yet, but he's pledged to by the end of the year.

The LAPD's new policy takes effect next month. The L.A. Police Commission says it'll reexamine that policy after six months and then decide if further changes are needed.