Crime & Justice

Police Commission to hold hearing on LAPD-ICE cooperation

A photo released Tuesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows people being arrested during an ICE operation.
A photo released Tuesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows people being arrested during an ICE operation.
Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/AP

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In response to fears among immigrants that the LAPD is helping to deport people under President Trump’s new immigration policy, the civilian board that oversees the department is devoting its entire public meeting Tuesday to how the LAPD does – and does not – work with federal authorities.

The idea came from one of the five commissioners, Shane Murphy Goldsmith, who said the department and commission need to send a clear message.

“The LAPD is not here to enforce immigration law or to deport immigrants,” she told KPCC. “It’s here to keep us safe and immigrant communities need to know that.”

But immigrants' trust in the LAPD may already be on the decline. Crime reporting from some immigrant heavy neighborhoods has dropped since President Trump was inaugurated, according to Chief Charlie Beck.

The department has long recognized the importance of keeping the trust of the hundreds of thousands of people living in Los Angeles without legal immigration status. It’s unlikely they’ll report crimes – either as victims or witnesses – if they think they’re risking deportation, say both LAPD brass and immigrant rights activists.

In 1979, then Chief Daryl Gates issued Special Order 40 prohibiting officers from stopping people only to determine their immigration status. It remains their guiding principal.

But some immigrant rights activists say that order needs updating. They want the LAPD to end participation in human trafficking, internet crimes against children and other joint operations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. When the two agencies conduct raids, they sometimes sweep up people who are living in the U.S. illegally but have committed no criminal offense, said attorney Emi MacLean of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

“Individuals who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time end up in deportation proceedings or end up deported,” MacLean said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California expressed similar concerns.

“We need to codify the disentangling from ICE,” said ACLU attorney Michael Kaufman. “We also need to ensure the LAPD is not engaging in information sharing with immigration authorities.”

LAPD officials staunchly deny officers hand over to ICE people who are merely in the country illegally.

“Our focus on these task forces is on the criminal offenders,” Deputy Chief Bob Arcos. “We would not identify and turn anybody else over to ICE – that’s not our role.”

He acknowledged federal agents may identify people living in the country illegally and detain them during task force operations.

The joint efforts are valuable because federal authorities have expertise that the LAPD doesn’t always have, for instance, in dealing with transnational gangs.

“Leveraging the expertise of both departments definitely increases the effectiveness of the investigation,” Arcos said. “We are going to continue to collaborate and work with them because there is a strong nexus to public safety in those investigations.”