Enforcement of immigration law has always been the responsibility of the federal government, but on April 23rd, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070, transferring that responsibility to state and local police officers. The move, which created no new authority but spread existing power and responsibility to a greater number of officers, has divided law enforcement. The Arizona Chief’s of Police Association and several elected sheriffs have opposed it and the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, Arizona Police Association and several other groups have offered support. What are the issues causing the debate and as a police officer what principles should you consider?
Why is the law necessary?
The bill I’m about to sign into law – Senate Bill 1070 – represents another tool for our state to use as we work to solve a crisis we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix…The crisis caused by illegal immigration and Arizona’s porous border…We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels. We cannot stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings and violence compromise our quality of life. We cannot delay while the destruction happening south of our international border creeps its way north. We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act. But decades of federal inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.
Jan Brewer, Arizona Governor
The Governor’s statement shows her frustration over the ‘decades of federal inaction’ that led her to the sign the law. Following Governor Bewer’s logic, if the federal government was effective in enforcing existing law there would be no need for SB1070. Does it really matter if the law is enforced locally or federally? The reasons I believe it does matter begin almost two centuries ago when the definition of contemporary law enforcement was taking shape. In 1829 Robert Peel, the father of modern policing, established nine principles for an ethical police force:
- The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
- The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
- Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
- The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
- Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
- Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
- Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
- Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
- The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
These principles established the foundation of modern policing in a democratic society and remain relevant to law enforcement philosophy today. These principles establish some key differences between the local police and the federal government and are the heart of the reason immigration enforcement should remain a federal responsibility.
Separation from the Community
The local police mission is to ‘serve and protect‘ and according to Peel to ‘prevent crime and disorder.’ A relationship with the community where ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’ is critical for encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward with information. An environment where a portion of the community is in fear of reporting crimes or providing information creates a gap between us and them and jeopardizes that mission. Under this law, the larger the immigrant population the larger that gap will be.
Immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively effect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities.
Chief Robert Davis, San Jose, CA; President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association
Making the vulnerable even more vulnerable
Through this gap, gangs and other criminals will prey on this group, exploiting their fear of the police. Our first responsibility is to protect the weak and the gap between us will make us less effective at doing that. There may be no better example than a domestic violence victim who fears reporting her abuser because she, in the country unlawfully, knows that a call for help could send her to jail.
What’s going to happen is you’re going to fear the police…[immigrants are] going to shy away from us instead of coming forward with information.
Sergeant Brian Soller, Mesa, AZ; President, Mesa Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police
Burdening the system
Each local police department has limited resources. The ability to respond quickly and provide quality service is determined by the availability of officers and resources. The additional responsibility of investigating immigration status and arresting illegal aliens will stretch already thin resources. This is an unfunded mandate – a requirement without any additional means to pay for it.
What does it do to our already limited resources? Officers are going to have to spend a lot of time determining whether someone is or is not in the country illegally.
Assistant Chief Mike Denney, Mesa, AZ
The Governor of Arizona’s judgement that this law is the answer is not an issue for a police officer to resolve and the Arizona Chiefs of Police have appropriately committed to enforce the statute to the best of their ability. If stricter enforcement is required, so be it, but there are grave consequences in transferring that job from the federal government to local cops.