Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Arizona Border, S.B. 1070 And A Viewpoint From An Officer Of The Law: Part I

Much hubbub has been made about the new law passed in Arizona. Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona, have both criticized it and then admitted to not knowing what's in the bill. A bill which can easily be found after a five second Google search.

In order to cut to the chase, I asked a friend of mine who is on the front line about the new law. Rick has been in law enforcement for the last 15 years, serving in central Arizona and I am very grateful to him for taking time out and answering very politely and diplomatically some questions I had.

Dave: How long have you been in law enforcement? You're not some wet behind the ears rookie, are you?

Rick: I’ve been in law enforcement for almost fifteen years.

Dave: I know you are north of Phoenix [In the Yavapai County area] but do you still have issues with illegals, drug runners and human smugglers?

Rick: We do. I-17, Hwy. 93, and I-40 are all major corridors for human smuggling and drugs. Locally, too, there are problems with criminal activity related to illegal aliens. A lot of the crime is illegals preying upon each other, but not always. Another issue is that it is very simple for them to flee back to Mexico to avoid prosecution. Finally, firm identification of them can be troublesome.

Dave: You'll be one of the many officers who will be enforcing the new law when it goes into effect, right?

Rick: I will be expected to enforce the law when it does take effect.

Dave: Will you need any special training for it's implementation or is it pretty much self explanatory?

Rick: While it is fairly self-explanatory, I have heard through local news reports that Governor Brewer has mandated the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZPOST) to develop a training program. This is not unusual, and there is typically a DVD put out annually by AZPOST with all new laws and case law covered in detail. One key issue I can already see as crucial will be documentation. The legitimate reason for contact, along with the factors (there should be more than just one) leading to the reasonable suspicion to inquire further into immigration status must be well documented. This is primarily to make sure we are in accordance with the statute and not profiling or abusing people’s rights, but will also be important in reducing civil liability.

Dave: Before 1070, what would you do in a scenario where you would pull someone over but they would have no car registration, insurance or driver's license. It was obvious to you that they were illegal. What were your options?

Rick: Arizona currently has a law on the books which requires drivers to carry ID while operating a motor vehicle. It is a misdemeanor offense, which means an arrest can be made. That or even driving with no current license can result in the vehicle being towed. The lack of registration and insurance would likely just result in citations.

For about the last five years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been a lot better about responding to pick up loads of illegals being smuggled across the state. They still will not come up for just one or two people. We also have some officers who are 287G certified, meaning they can do the detainers and have a direct pipeline to ICE. The problem is that the program is limited in the number of officers ICE will allow, and it is hard to get slots for the training. Additionally, it is still a long, drawn out process, which will be greatly improved with the new law.

I have seen Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik on the news a couple of times talking about the law. He does not support it, and he says that everything works fine for them now with their relationship with ICE. I respect the Sheriff’s opinion, but he is south of I-10. The system undoubtedly works a lot better there than here because they actually have ICE and Border Patrol agents right there.

I have also had the opportunity to work on some cases with agencies in the Phoenix Metro area. I am aware that they have recently had a large influx of both Eastern European and African immigrants, some legal, some not. Both have a criminal element within, just as any group of people tends to. The citizenship process, as well as the work visa process, can assist in weeding out some of that criminal element. It is not perfect, but it helps. As I said, many of the crimes involving illegal immigrants are perpetrated on victims of the same ethnic or national group, and they are frequently brutal kidnappings, robberies, and homicides, especially when they relate to drug or human smuggling. Reducing the numbers of illegal immigrants, regardless of their origin, can potentially make life safer for the legal immigrants, which should be important to all of us.

The fact is that the majority of the illegal immigrants in Arizona are Latino, so most people affected by this law will be Latino. That is simply the nature of the percentages, not proof of racism. They will not, however, be the only ones by any means.

Dave:So you were allowed to inquire about their nationality or would that be considered to be racial profiling? It sounded like it was pretty obvious if the person you were pulling over was in Arizona illegally if they didn't have a driver's license.

Rick: Not having a license by itself would not necessarily be an indicator of illegal immigration, but it may be one of a number of factors. It would lead one to ask where they are from. No matter what someone looks like, if we have contact with them and they don’t have ID, we typically ask for full name, DOB, and the state where they have a license or ID. That allows us to run their information and get physical descriptors and other information we can use to confirm their identity.

We can typically ask anything of anyone. I am unaware of any case law restricting what can be asked. There are the 5th and 6th Amendment protections clarified in Miranda vs. Arizona, but they don’t restrict what can be asked, only when. The fact is that we build evidence and gather information based on the totality of the circumstances, not one isolated fact. The questions we ask may be guided by information we already have. Basing a decision to take action or not one just one factor, no matter what it is, is simply bad police work. There are always multiple pieces to even the simplest puzzle, and we have to ask questions and gather evidence before making a final decision. Nationality may well be one of those questions, as may citizenship status. Race would not really even be a good indicator in Arizona. A large portion of the population here is comprised of legalized or natural born Latinos, many going back multiple generations. A quick look at an Arizona map is one indicator of the deep, long-standing, Latino culture in the state. Assuming that someone is here illegally simply because their skin is dark would be ridiculous.

This is why I talked about documentation being so important. In any case, that list or description of the total circumstances is vital to the successful prosecution of a case. An example would be a description of an individual with bloodshot, watery eyes, an odor of an alcoholic beverage on their breath and person, an open fly, slurred, mumbled speech, staggering, swaying, and using the car for balance. Any one of these factors alone would not be an indicator that someone is driving impaired, but in their totality, they make a good case for at least digging deeper. The documentation allows supervisors and attorneys to review cases and determine that there was a good set of circumstances and evidence to support the decisions made.

One final point regarding inquiries about nationality is custodial arrest. Anyone booked into jail on any offense is asked for their place of birth and citizenship. This protects the arrestee as it allows jail staff to know they need to contact the arrestee’s Consulate.

Dave: I saw that the mayors of San Fransisco and Los Angeles are calling for boycotts of Arizona. Would you say Arizona is a good place to visit?

Rick: Arizona is a good place to visit. Arizona has a great deal of cultural, historical, and geographical diversity. There are a lot of recreational opportunities, and Arizona is a fairly inexpensive place to visit. In addition to that, Arizona has one of the seven wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon.

Dave: [Carol at No Sheeples here had this question] Have you heard of La Raza? The activist group who thinks parts of the southwest from California all the way to Texas is really still part of Mexico.

Rick: I have heard of La Raza, and they are not the only group which believes that the majority of the Southwestern US is still rightfully Mexico’s. I don’t know the names of any of the other groups, and I don’t really know much more than that thumbnail sketch.

Dave: Have you had any groups protesting the new law where you are at?

Rick: I am not aware of any protests against the law in my area, but that does not mean there weren’t any.

Dave: What about Tea Parties? How did the two compare?

Rick: The Tea Parties have been very peaceful and included a reasonably diverse crowd, including some Latinos.

End of Part I.

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