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Event report: -  Policing in a time of budget cuts: immigration and community relations

Click here to watch video of the panel introductions

On July 25, 2011, SPSSI hosted a congressional briefing, Policing in a time of budget cuts: immigration and community relations. In the spirit of SPSSI's aims and mission, the discussion panel brought together experts from psychology and policy to seek sound solutions to an important social issue. The event was made possible with the support of Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren’s office which provided the venue in the Rayburn Office Building.

As a backdrop to the event, a recent report from the Police Executive Research Forum, Is the Economic Downturn Fundamentally Changing How We Police?, was highlighted. In the report police chiefs around the country agreed that economic cutbacks could lead to pivotal changes in policing. Funding has implications for community relations particularly where more work is needed, among minority and immigrant communities. The panel for this briefing was also tasked with addressing other economic and policy questions surrounding law enforcement programs and training.

Leon Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Chief of Staff in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, opened the event with a presentation on a number of experiences in this area from his career, which was largely spent working on issues affecting policing and minority communities.

In 1988 he began as an assistant district attorney at a time when the crack epidemic was at its height. He was based in Brooklyn where, in a population of 2.5 million people, there were on average 770 homicides a year due to drug crime. Despite the huge challeges, Mr. Rodrigeuz recounted that one of the most effective police officers he knew was good at his job because he was viewed as being a nice guy; someone that the community could trust. This relationship of trust was a theme that he continued to observe in action.

Some years later, when he became a county attorney in Montgomery County in Maryland, immigration was an issue that he worked on alot. At the start there was some cooperation with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) but it was at the low end nationally, and the main reason for this was that they wanted to have good relations with the community. Another important factor for police departments was that cross-deputization raised the risk of liability costs. This is something that is rarely thought about in the context of immigration, though it has important links to problems with police budgets.

Mr Rodriguez tied up his comments by talking about pattern or practice work taking place in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. They have revived pattern or practice in civil rights and enforcement based on United States Code, Title 42: 14141. Two recent cases involved the Austin, Texas, police department and the New Orleans, Louisiana, police department where poor community relations had led to patterns or practices that violated the requirements of 14141. They both demonstrated a failure to be involved in community orientated policing, and it is a reality that must be understood better in an enviroment of diminishing resources.

Michele Waslin, Senor Policy Analyst, the Immigration Policy Center, who was moderating the discussion panel, opened the discussion with some remarks on how immigration policy seems to have been immune to budget problems. States have started trying to push forward legislation similar to Arizona's controversial SB.1070 bill. Copycat bills in South Carolina, Alabama, Utah and Indiana have all passed and similar laws failed in 16 other states. More efforts are expected in the next congressional session.

One factor in the failure of many of these pieces of legislation has been the costs of the programs. Much of the cost has to do with the police time and training, arrests and deportation. Tenesse said it would cost $3 million in the first year alone. The Center for American Progress estimated that Arizona will lose $45 million just in lodging revenue due to cancellation of conventions.

There is also the important consideration of the cost of law suits. To date, $1.5 million has been spent by Arizona in defending itself. Another big cost has been the establishment of federal partnerships with police departments starting around the time of 9/11. ICE has begun to expand partnerships as force multiplyers. These programs take different forms. Some are informal, like a task force. Others like 287 g where law enforcement enter into an memorandums of understanding with ICE so that police officers are trained in cross-deputization are more formal. Secure Communities programs follow the formalized effort along these lines. When someone is put into jail, their fingerprints are taken and then sent to ICE so that the latter can check immigration status and issue a detainer to keep the suspect for up to an extra 48 hours to be picked up and taken to immigration detention.

Programs such as these are very costly for law enforcement as they are expected to shoulder most of the budget. ICE does not reimburse them. In 287 g the governement pays for the initial training but not for the actual implementation and continued funding of the program. In South Carolina it cost $5.3 million to set up 287g. Moreover, if large numbers of people are arrested and deported this affects the local economy as well. In police departments the cross-deputization programs can also take resources from other more important things like pursuing serious criminals. Research has shown that response times to 911 calls in one county in Arizona have increased and that criminal warrents are sometimes not being served. This further erodes the relationship between police and communities.

One other big problem of these policies is that they risk police officers racially profiling individuals. Pretextual arrests (minor faults in order to take them in for being suspected illegal immigrants) are another problem for law enforcement community relations. Statistics show that a large number of people are being reported for very minor crime and that communities are being frightened over this.

Summary of comment and discussion from Peggy Brady-Amoon, Professor of Psychology, Seton Hall University:
Moving between countries is very stressful and this is exacebated by experiences of poverty and sometimes violence. Among refugee seekers, 84% report being tortured. Immigrant popultions are wrongly believed to be involved in criminal activity. There are also the linguistic and cultural challenges in addition to the experience of discrimination. Separations are common in immigrant families are these are particularly stressful when they are the result of deportation of one of the family members. A quarter of recent immigrants to the U.S. are living below the poverty line. Many undocumented immigrants are working in the shadow economy and have little recourse to legal redress. They keep our economic engine running. In Texas there was a reported death of a detainee which led to a huge protest of members of their community due to the lack of any legal recourse they had.

Summary of comment and discussion from Kim Dine, Chief of Police, City of Fredrick, Maryland:
We need to look at the historical perspective of community relations in the U.S.. It isn't such a prety picture over the last 40 years. The people that needed us the most have trusted us least. This is bad because we need people to report crime and not push them underground. Definition of a nightmare is when you go somewhere for help and there is no-one there. Departments need to hire more bilingual officers and have other training so that they can build trust.

Summary of comment and discussion from Ezekiel Edwards, Staff Attorney, ACLU:
Some of the unfair experiences that are being placed on immigrant communities are similar to the problems that have been experienced in communities of color in terms of the perception of crime, the stress, and the economic problems. It's hard to talk about policing without also acknowledging other problems in the criminal justice system. 2.3 million people in prison in 1971 there were 350,000 when President Nixon declared the war on drugs. There has since been an increase in the number of people being arrested from certain communities. 29% nationally of those immigrants deported have not been convicted of a crime. Preemptive policing has been one of the main reasons behind this. The NYPD set a trend in the 1990s of fighting smaller crime. In 1990 41,000 people were stopped and frisked. In 2009 this number was over half a million. 6% of these on average resulted in arrests. 2% resulted in contraband. This falls disproportionately on communities of color.

Summary of comment and discussion from Todd Lucas, Professor of Psychology, Wayne State University:
His research has brought a psychological approach to the formulationa and enforcement of immigration policies. The research aimed to understand police behviors and mental processes in udeveloping policy. They looked at policing fairness and how this effects the way that police officers enforce policies by asking officers to recall a time at work when they experienced a fair process and a fair outcome. They then created a investigation scenario which involved people of color who had been stopped by the officer in an investigation and asked the officers whether it was appropriate to ask for immigraiton papers. There was a 20% increase among the officers who had been primed to think about fair outcomes as opposed to fair process. This difference was achieved very simply so has potential as a training method for police officers.


Further resources:

» Fact sheet on Widening Impact of Arizona's SB 1070

» Fact sheet on Likely Effects of Utah Cross-Deputization

» Fact sheet on Immigration Facts and Myths