Crime & Justice

LAPD takes some credit for easing immigrants' fears of reporting crimes

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent detains an immigrant in Los Angeles.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent detains an immigrant in Los Angeles.
John Moore/Getty Images

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The LAPD said Tuesday that its extensive outreach in Latino communities seems to have helped calm fears among unauthorized immigrants that the department would help the Trump administration deport people.

As evidence of the change, the department pointed to statistics showing that by the end of 2017 more Latinos were reporting sexual assaults and domestic violence than earlier in the year.

In a report to the Los Angeles Police Commission, the LAPD said in the first four months of 2017,  which included all but three weeks of Trump's new administration, reports of sexual assault in Latino communities had plummeted about 24 percent compared with the same time the year before. Reports of sexual assault during that time were down citywide, but only by about 14 percent.

By the end of last year, reporting was still down but not by nearly as much, and the gap between Latino reporting and citywide reporting had narrowed: Latino reports of sexual assault were down by 14 percent year over year, and citywide reports were down 10 percent.

Reports of domestic violence by Latinos were down 8 percent in the first four months of last year, compared with a 4 percent decline citywide, the department said. By Dec. 31, domestic violence reporting was up 1.3 percent among Latinos and 1.7 percent citywide, according to the report.

The department can't provide data on crime reporting specifically among immigrants, because it doesn't collect data on the immigration status of crime victims or witnesses.

It turns out Trump’s promise of more deportations had a silver lining, said Police Commission member Matt Johnson.

"It gave us an opportunity to reach out to the immigrant community," he said. "It gave the department and commission for that matter an impetus to be extremely proactive."

Concerned that Trump's promises of mass deportations would heighten fears among unauthorized immigrants about reporting crimes, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck early last year ordered an outreach campaign that involved more than 100 meetings with the community, according to the department.

"We didn’t want to dominate meetings and contribute to the fear, so we sought out meetings that were already happening," said Deputy Chief Robert Arcos, who led the effort. "We invited ourselves as often as we possibly could."

Police officials stepped up outreach in churches and Spanish-language media and with immigrant advocacy groups, repeatedly stressing that longstanding department policy forbids officers from working with federal immigration agents to deport non-violent criminals in the U.S. illegally.

Arcos said fear of federal agents sweeping people up has not gone away. He recalled a frantic phone call he received a few weeks ago. Someone said they had seen six or seven ICE agents at Union Station.

"Are there raids going on?" Arcos said the caller asked. "Do we need to tell people to get off their trains and reroute themselves?"

Arcos said he called Dave Marin, director of ICE's Los Angeles field office, something he's done before to dispel rumors.

It turns out that ICE, which has offices across the freeway from Union Station, has satellite parking at the train depot.

"He said five of their guys were getting coffee at the Starbucks inside the train station," Arcos said.

The deputy chief said the LAPD is focused right now on working with organizers of  upcoming May Day marches.

"We will see just how intense the issue is for Latinos during May Day marches next week," he said.