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Police Commission holds hearing on immigration policies

LOS ANGELES — With President Donald Trump signing a series of executive orders on immigration that have alarmed Los Angeles officials, the Police Commission held a hearing May 16 on the LAPD’s policy on working with federal authorities.

The hearing was not about creating or devising any new policies, but was aimed more at making the police department’s policies clear while also inviting representatives of community-based organizations to speak and air their concerns.

Chief Charlie Beck appeared before the commission and reiterated the department’s adherence to Special Order 40, a 1979 directive which states that officers will not initiate police action solely to determine an individual’s immigration status.

Since Trump was elected in November, Beck has stated numerous times that the LAPD will not act as a deportation force, and he repeated that sentiment again to the commissioners.

“This is a time of great uncertainty on this issue — not because of what the police department has done — because as I have said from the first day, I will not change,” Beck said.

“One thing you have is a very stubborn chief, and I’m sure the commission appreciates that some days more than others,” he said. “But 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, as well.”

Trump signed an executive order in January that threatened to cut off federal funding to cities that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration law, even thought the cities are not required by law to do so. The order was blocked by a federal judge in April.

Despite the LAPD’s assertion it will not detain individuals based on their immigration status, immigrants may still have new fear over interacting with the department. One indicator is that the reporting of crime, and in particular the reporting of sexual assaults, have decreased in Hispanic neighborhoods this year, Beck said.

“Those things are of a great concern for us. We need reporting. We also need people to come forward as witnesses,” he said.

Arif Alikhan, director of the Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy for the LAPD, outlined the department’s policies on detaining individuals suspected of being in the country illegally. Alikhan explained that unless a federal arrest warrant has been issued for an individual, the LAPD will not honor a detainer request by federal authorities.

Representatives of some of the community organizations expressed concern that Special Order 40 is an old document in need of updating. They also said that when the LAPD participates in joint task forces with the feds, it can end up partaking in a deportation effort.

“Special Order 40 does not do enough to distance LAPD from federal immigration enforcement in this changing landscape,” said Jordan Cunnings, a lawyer with Public Counsel.

Emmy McClain, a lawyer with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, spoke of an incident in November 2015 when the LAPD and agents from Homeland Security raided a house party in South L.A. as part of an investigation into an illegal “casitas,” or club run by a criminal street gang.

According to McClain, the raid resulted in nine people being deported solely because of their immigration status, even though they were not wanted for any criminal activity. They were detained by LAPD officers and fingerprinted at an LAPD station before being turned over to agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, McClain said, calling it an example of “joint task forces run amok.”

Beck called the case an “exception that proves the rule here. This is not a commonplace practice, and when it happens, the Los Angeles Police Department takes it very seriously.”

As for Special Order 40, Beck said he was open to updating the policy, but also added, “To think that there is any other major city that supports this cause like the Los Angeles Police Department — particularly Chicago, New York and New Orleans — I love those departments but they don’t even come close to the support of the immigrant community that we do.”