The Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday agreed to investigate reports that police officers collaborated with federal immigration officials during the city's recent unrest in violation of departmental policy.
The commission also will refer the complaints--which allege that federal and local law enforcement officers took advantage of the mayhem to detain hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants--to the Webster Commission, said President Stanley K. Sheinbaum.
That special panel to examine the Police Department's response to the riots will be headed by former FBI chief William H. Webster and by Hubert Williams, president of the Washington-based Police Foundation and a former Newark, N.J., police chief.
The complaints "will be a focus of the Webster-Williams investigation, no doubt about it," Sheinbaum said during a Police Commission meeting attended by dozens of representatives from the Latino community.
One Latino speaker after another told the commission of residents who were arrested by Los Angeles police for suspected looting, violation of the city's curfew or other riot-related crimes and were released to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. This was true even in cases where charges were dropped for lack of evidence, the speakers said.
"Many of us came to this country hoping to find peace and jobs, and instead we find the police terrorizing our community," said Carlos Vaquerano, a native of El Salvador who works for the Central American Refugee Center.
The departmental policy in question, enacted as Special Order 40 in 1979 and later updated, bars police from conducting investigations solely to determine immigration status. There may still be some situations where police must have contact with immigration authorities to pursue criminal investigations, an LAPD spokesman said.
But the Latino representatives who crowded the Police Commission hearing room Tuesday spoke of widespread detentions and immigration sweeps during the riots.
Gloria Romero, chairwoman of the Hispanic Advisory Council to the commission, said Police Chief Daryl F. Gates set the tone by stating in television interviews that "illegal aliens" played a major role in looting and violence during the rioting.
City Councilman Mike Hernandez also accused police of unfairly targeting Latinos for arrest and subsequent deportation procedures.
"We have immigrants from all over the world in this city and only Latinos were detained (after their release from police custody) because of the way they look. That's not what this country is supposed to be about," said Hernandez, whose district includes the heavily Latino Pico-Union area.
Hernandez and other speakers also questioned why U.S. Border Patrol and INS agents were deployed by the LAPD in neighborhoods where they are widely feared, calling the strategy insensitive at best. At the same time, Hernandez said, those neighborhoods suffered badly because they received little or no protection from police or the National Guard during the unrest.
Earlier in the discussion, LAPD Capt. Dennis Conte, who heads the Newton Street Division, told the commission that immigration agents were called in to his Southeast Los Angeles patrol area to help the police as translators and with attempts to recover looted property. In such instances, he said, immigration authorities worked out of police stations and directly with city police officers.
Deputy Police Chief Bernard Parks--who oversees the Newton and Rampart divisions, both of which include large Latino neighborhoods--said his review of contacts between the police and immigration officials there showed no violation of the department's policy.
Parks and Deputy Chief Ronald Frankle also said that Special Order 40 was never suspended during the riots.
But their version of events was contradicted by the public speakers.
"Denials can be made, technical exceptions can be claimed," said Jose de Paz of the California Immigrant Workers Assn., "but the reality is people on the streets are afraid" of deportation.