AZ Republic 01.22.09: Force better trained after new immigration policy

Mesa police: Force better trained after new immigration policy

Three weeks after a revised immigration policy went into effect, Mesa police says its officers are better trained to report and detain suspected illegal immigrants.

The department revised its Immigration and Customs Enforcement Protocol last fall after a series of immigration controversies, and it has been training its officers since October.

The changes, which went into effect Jan. 1, have given officers a better understanding of when to ask for a person’s immigration status and report them to ICE authorities, Assistant Chief Mike Denney said.

The policy is similar to those in Scottsdale and Phoenix. All three cities now ask for a suspect’s status when arrested and booked into jail.

If officers suspect an immigration violation or a prisoner admits to being illegal, they can contact ICE.

The policies stop short of satisfying illegal-immigration opponents who believe should arrest anyone in the country illegally regardless of circumstance.

Last year, the issue sparked heavy debate as the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office conducted a series of raids and rounded up undocumented immigrants throughout the Valley, including Mesa.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio criticized Mesa for failing to ask questions about immigration status when dealing with suspects.

The new policy is designed to address those concerns.

“There are times we should be asking questions” of suspected illegal immigrants, Denney said. “There is a vehicle through this protocol to do that.”

The updated protocol provides officers a clearer set of guidelines on how to handle illegal immigrants and when to report them to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities, said Sgt. Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association.

“Now officers don’t have to guess what to do,” Cota said. The old protocol was overly vague and left officers open to accusations of racial profiling.

“I think it will show that based on what our current resources are, we are doing what we can to eliminate criminal aliens from our city,” he added.

The seven-page protocol outlines instances when an officer can ask a person’s immigrant status.

Officers ask the status of suspects who are part of a criminal investigation or were booked into jail.

Under the new policy, officers are not required to ask the immigration status of those involved in a civil incident, such as a traffic violation.

Officers also will not ask for information from crime victims, witnesses, those seeking medical attention, victims of domestic violence and juveniles, unless it’s likely they will face adult charges.

Law-abiding community volunteers who are part of neighborhood watches and advisory boards also will not be asked.

“We think it’s a good step in the right direction,” said Sgt. Bryan Soller, president of the Mesa and Arizona Fraternal Order of Police. “Our officers had no clue what to do and what not to do before; now at least we have some guidelines.”