Tucson police officers got new orders from the City Council on how to enforce SB 1070.
Dozens of people packed council chambers for the unanimous vote approving changes to the rules officers will follow when immigration issues arise.
Some of the changes emphasize that officers focus on suspects, not on victims’ or witnesses’ immigration status; require the presence of a parent or guardian if officers question a juvenile on immigration status; and make reasonable attempts to find alternatives to towing a vehicle during a traffic stop when the violation does mandate impoundment.
In addition, the Tucson Police Department must develop new stop-data collection methods, create a community outreach plan and shouldn’t ask about the immigration status of anyone who reports an allegation of police misconduct.
Most of the suggested changes were alterations of existing TPD policy.
With recent flare-ups between police and immigration proponents underscoring how SB 1070 is affecting the community, Councilwoman Regina Romero said now was the time for a conversation about adjusting current policy.
“We are now dealing with a bad law,” Romero said. And these changes “are about maneuvering away from a bad law.”
Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said the law has undermined public safety by intimidating people from reporting domestic abuse and other crimes for fear of deportation.
Uhlich said the city should reject the state law on grounds it violates the city charter’s provision to uphold public safety. “If the state wants to sue us ... I would welcome that type of challenge,” Uhlich said.
But City Attorney Mike Rankin said while the proposed changes don’t run afoul of state law, the city can’t outright reject SB 1070 because the issue isn’t a city-only issue like an election.
Immigration activists cheered the move as step in the right direction but said there’s more work to be done.
“We’re still going to hold TPD and the City Council accountable and ensure our constitutional rights are protected,” said local activist Raul Alcaraz-Ochoa, with the Protection Network Coalition.
Alcaraz-Ochoa said his group wants Tucson to live up to its immigrant-welcoming-city designation that the council approved in August 2012.
For some, the changes solve very little.
ACLU staff attorney James Lyall said he continues to hear too many accounts of officers stopping people solely for immigration checks and targeting parts of town where immigrants congregate.
Lyall said nothing short of a full prohibition against officers inquiring about victims’ and witnesses’ immigration status and other limitations on what officers can do will stop the problem.
He said TPD has more wiggle room under the law than they claim.
“A lot can be done even within the constraints of SB 1070 to ensure that they are policing in a constitutional manner,” Lyall said.
Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said he resented the allegation that his officers are “ripping” apart the community.
He said officers are in a no-win situation, and he can’t create a policy that directs officers to disobey the law.
“I don’t agree with the law, but (we) are obligated to uphold it,” Villaseñor said.
A spokesman for the police union called Lyall’s allegations “outrageous and offensive.”
“It’s a tough law to enforce one way or the other,” said Jason Winsky, government affairs director for Tucson Police Officers Association. “But we do not have a systemic problem in the Police Department with selective profiling or selective enforcement of SB 1070 or any other law.”
Winsky said officers have enough on their plate and don’t seek out immigration violators.
Lyall said TPD should pay closer attention to the voices in the community who have been sharing their stories for months.
“They are saying that Latinos are subjected to selective traffic enforcements, things that oftentimes don’t lead to stops for other members of the community,” Lyall said.
He said about 12 of the 18 immigration checks that members of the Protection Network Coalition activists experienced took place in the general vicinity of Southside Presbyterian Church.
Lyall said officers are free to believe whatever narratives they want.
“Certainly, Tucson Police Department can discount the stories of community members,” he said. “But I don’t think they should.”