Handling of illegals: Valley police forces split

Katie McDevitt
East Valley Tribune
October 14, 2007 – 4:12AM

Valley police departments disagree on the best way to handle illegal immigration. While Phoenix police union officials seek permission to report all suspected illegal immigrants to federal agents, Mesa’s two police unions say they don’t have the resources or training to get involved in the immigration issue.
The Mesa Police Association is backing Mesa police Chief George Gascón in his efforts to focus law enforcement resources on high-crime areas, instead of using extra time to check residents’ immigration status.
At the same time, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association has filed a proposal with Phoenix police to change a policy that prohibits officers from contacting Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in suspicious cases that do not involve felony arrests.
Gascón, Phoenix police Chief Jack Harris, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and other officials held a news conference last week to discuss varying perspectives on the issue of local police tackling illegal immigration.
The Chandler Law Enforcement Association sides more with Phoenix on the issue, while police unions in Scottsdale and Tempe have not publicly discussed the topic.
“We just want the ability, the discretion, to contact ICE when reasonable suspicion leads us to believe that the person is in the country illegally,” said Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.
“We are not going to stop people solely to check people’s status,” he said.
Spencer said the proposal was made after numerous union members complained that they’re frustrated that they can’t report illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes to ICE.
“The front-line men and women see a clear connection between illegal immigration and crime,” he said.
But in Mesa, officials say the issues of crime and illegal immigration are separate and must be handled differently.
According to Mesa Police Association President Fabian Cota, the department is down 200 to 300 officers and could not dedicate extra time to fighting illegal immigration.
“The other concern is liability,” Cota said. “We have no federal protection if we’re sued for discrimination in federal court.”
President Bryan Soller of the Mesa Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 9 echoed Cota’s concerns and added that illegal immigrants who commit crimes will just sneak back across the border again.
“If we don’t shut the border down, it’s a useless fact anyhow,” Soller said.
Harris said he listened to the Phoenix police union’s proposal and agreed to review the request and return an answer in a few weeks.
Still, Harris said the request presents obstacles, such as overwhelming ICE agents with reports of illegal immigrants and legal issues.
“With what little information we’ve gotten at this point, it doesn’t look like it would be something we’d be able to do,” Harris said. “But again, we’re just starting to look at all the information they gave us to evaluate.”
In the past year in Mesa, Gascón said 24 percent of all serious crimes were committed by Hispanics and about 64 percent are committed by whites. Also, Gascón said 12 percent of Arizona’s prison population is Mexican citizens.
“The Spanish population in Mesa exceeds 25 percent,” Gascón said. “And if you take into account that you have a group of people that account for 24 percent of the arrests and they’re 25 percent of the population, that’s hardly disproportionate.”

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