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Local Opinion: Police Chief: Sanctuary city initiative wrong for Tucson

Local Opinion: Police Chief: Sanctuary city initiative wrong for Tucson

  • Updated

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer

I’m proud to live in a city that is “welcoming to all,” including our large immigrant population. With the help of community members and city leaders our department responded to the passage of SB 1070 nine years ago by developing and then continually improving the general orders (policies that govern department members) that deal with immigration-related issues. We are now widely recognized as having one of the most rational, compassionate and comprehensive approaches to interacting with undocumented persons among states with similar laws.

Tucson is not a “sanctuary city,” although there is no definition, legal or otherwise, of what being a sanctuary city means. TPD does not engage in civil immigration enforcement, nor do officers check immigration status during consensual or voluntary contacts, such as when a person reports a crime or seeks assistance. Our general orders specifically state, “the need for community trust and cooperation is an essential component of effective policing and public safety ... victims and witnesses of crime should not be the focus of immigration inquiries and should be encouraged to cooperate in the reporting and investigation of crime.”

A sanctuary city initiative headed for the ballot claims to add “protections that are absent from current … police guidelines” to “clarify the rights of community members and victims when they interact with the police.” The truth is, many of the purported protections, such as limiting police questioning to only those specific matters related to traffic stops or criminal investigations, are already required by department policy.

In evaluating the state law requirements for making immigration inquiries only when “practicable,” officers currently consider things such as workload, criticality of an incident, available personnel, and more. The department’s general orders also encourage officers to consider whether such inquires would negatively impact a victim’s willingness to cooperate or compound the complexity of difficult cases. As a result, immigration inquiries occur rarely as our officers focus their time and resources on public safety and community engagement.

Another example of new restrictions being sought includes expanding the scope of “sensitive locations” where immigration inquiries would be disallowed to include hospitals, places of worship, and courthouses. This implies that immigration checks in such locations by TPD personnel are ongoing. There’s no evidence to support this because it’s simply not happening.

There are many reasons to look more closely at this initiative. A detailed legal analysis of the proposed ordinance prepared by Tucson’s city attorney suggests multiple sections of the initiative conflict with state law, some to the point that they “cannot be explained or defended” if the ordinance were to be legally challenged, which many believe is highly likely.

Another of the sanctuary city measures would specifically prohibit TPD personnel from participating in any joint law enforcement operation “or similar endeavor” with a federal officer or agency unless that agency first signs an agreement to place certain restrictions on its arrest authority within Tucson city limits. It’s hard to imagine any federal agency would consent to such to such an agreement.

Given this practical reality, such a requirement would make our entire community, including our undocumented residents, far less safe. TPD currently works with a range of federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals, and others. An end to these relationships could mean:

• No partnerships with the FBI to solve missing children cases or other major crimes

• No further participation in the ATF’s National Integrated Ballistics Network program that allows TPD to link bullet casings from crime scenes to criminals through a national database

• A likely end to TPD’s participation in a DEA task force and the widely acclaimed Counter Narcotic Alliance — both initiatives tackling high-level drug trafficking in our city

• No further inclusion of TPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children section in a multi-agency task force investigating child sex crimes

• An end to joint endeavors to combat human trafficking with Homeland Security personnel

TPD receives several millions of dollars in grant funding from the federal government. A significant portion of this funding supports our most vulnerable community members, including victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

There is a strong likelihood these resources will be placed in jeopardy if this initiative becomes law, especially with the recent decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the DOJ to withhold policing grants from sanctuary cities.

Ensuring public safety for all in our community, including immigrants of any status (e.g., undocumented, asylum seekers, etc.), is my highest priority as chief.

I therefore believe it is imperative that community members dig deeper and become as informed as possible regarding the implications, legal issues, and potential unintended consequences that come with this proposed sanctuary city initiative.

Chris Magnus is chief of the Tucson Police Department. He was previously chief of police in Fargo, North Dakota, and in Richmond, California.

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