Thursday, June 18, 2009

Special Order 40

A three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeals decided unanimously yesterday to uphold the Los Angeles Police Department's "Special Order 40," a policy which prohibits officers from initiating contact with an individual for the sole purpose of establishing their right to be in the US. The order was designed to make community policing more effective by making victims of and witnesses to crimes more comfortable in providing information concerning those crimes, even though they themselves may be "guilty" of being in the country illegally.

The policy, in place since 1979, has been pretty effective, but every once in a while, some anti-immigrant Anglo gets perturbed by the fact that the LAPD isn't hauling the undocumented to jail along with the other criminals. This time the law suit brought by Harold Sturgeon claimed that Special Order 40 was a violation of federal law. From the Los Angeles Times:

The judges rejected the claim of the plaintiff, Harold Sturgeon, that the order violates a federal statute, which prohibits restrictions on the exchange of information between federal immigration agents and other law enforcement officers.

They said he failed to show any instances in which officers had been punished by superiors or otherwise discouraged from passing on information.

The LAPD’s policy, the judges emphasized, does not place any limits on the information that officers can pass on to federal agents regarding a person’s immigration status.

Behind Special Order 40 is the philosophy that the LAPD's job is to protect and to serve the local community, not to enforce immigration law. That's the job of the federal government, now through Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In order to do their jobs, officers have to be able to count on the trust of the community, a trust that won't be there if members of that community fear stepping up to report a crime lest they face immediate deportment.

Apparently that's too difficult a concept for Mr. Sturgeon and those backing him to understand. Fortunately, the appellate court justices got it, and got it right.

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