Since Donald Trump was elected president in November, Los Angeles police officials have sought to assure the public that deporting immigrants is not their job.
In media interviews and dozens of community meetings, Chief Charlie Beck and others have pointed to Special Order 40, a 1979 city directive that prohibits police officers from initiating contact with a person to ask about immigration status.
But at a Police Commission meeting Tuesday devoted to immigration, immigrant rights advocates urged the Los Angeles Police Department to do more to distance itself from federal immigration enforcement.
They suggested measures such as a new policy against biased policing and a halt to sharing data with federal authorities. The meeting comes at a time when the Trump administration’s threats to increase deportations have made some immigrants afraid to leave the house, advocates said.
“Progress has been made, but we still must do more in Los Angeles to create an environment where immigrants are not confused about the role of the police and their relationship with ICE,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “We’ve come a long way in building trust, but I want you to understand that the fear is real.”
Beck agreed with the advocates that since Trump’s election, Los Angeles has been a city on edge. At stake, he said, is the trust the LAPD has built among immigrants who are in the country illegally, encouraging them to report crimes and cooperate as witnesses without fearing that police officers will hand them over to immigration authorities.
That trust may have already eroded. This year, in addition to a drop in reported sexual assaults among Latinos, the LAPD has seen a 10% drop in 911 calls in the predominantly Latino Hollenbeck Division, compared with a 1% drop citywide, Beck said.
The Trump administration has indicated that it plans to have local police agencies play a larger role in immigration enforcement and has threatened to withhold federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities. The administration has not offered a definition of the term, and Los Angeles has not officially declared itself a sanctuary city.
Beck noted that Latinos are the largest ethnic group in both the city and his police department. When he met with Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly and Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions last month, he emphasized why local police should not enforce immigration laws, he said.
“One thing you have is a very stubborn chief,” Beck said. “I will not change what we do in this respect, not only because it’s the legal thing to do but because it’s the moral thing to do.”
According to the Pew Research Center, about 1 million of the 11.1 million immigrants in the United States without legal status live in Los Angeles County. Within city limits, Pew estimates that about 375,000 of Los Angeles’ nearly 4 million residents are in the U.S. illegally.
Arif Alikhan, the LAPD’s director of constitutional policing, said that in many cases, immigrants in the country illegally have violated civil laws but not criminal laws.
In 2014, Alikhan said, the department stopped honoring requests from ICE to hold jail inmates past the time they would otherwise be released. And although Los Angeles police officers do participate in joint task forces with ICE on criminal cases, they do not work with ICE on civil immigration enforcement.
Several of the immigrant rights advocates said the LAPD needs to cut back on the joint task forces because people who are not involved in crimes can be arrested by ICE during the operations.
Any tendency for immigrants to fear the LAPD because of ICE’s actions is “not a misunderstanding or a messaging problem,” said Jordan Cunnings, an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the public interest law firm Public Counsel. “That’s actually what happens if the LAPD continues to work on these joint task forces.”
Michael Kaufman, a senior staff attorney and deputy director of advocacy at the ACLU of Southern California, said the LAPD should reduce arrests for minor crimes such as graffiti or sleeping in a car, which put immigrants at risk of deportation because ICE reviews arrest databases.
Kaufman also urged the LAPD to make fewer pedestrian stops and to endorse a proposed state law, SB 54, that would largely prohibit local law enforcement from sharing data with immigration authorities.
Beck said Alikhan has been working with representatives of Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), the measure’s author, to refine some details.
“There’s a constant evolution, and we’re pretty sure we can get there, but we want to make sure it works on every level,” Beck said.
The proposed “bias-free policing policy” would expand on Special Order 40 by detailing the types of immigration enforcement that are off-limits for the LAPD. It would prohibit participation in joint task forces that focus on immigration violations and bar the sharing of most information with federal immigration authorities.
Police Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill said she supports taking a look at the policy. Another commissioner, Shane Murphy Goldsmith, asked police officials to provide a status report on immigration issues within 60 days.
Beck said he is open to updating Special Order 40, noting that he is one of the few Los Angeles officers who joined the department before it was enacted.
“Almost all of our 10,000 officers were hired in and trained in and believe in Special Order 40 as the way they do business,” Beck said. “Most have never done it any other way.”