Your neighborhood cop may be allowed to arrest undocumented immigrants

Kamala Harris says local law enforcement shouldn't have to do the federal government's job

California Sen. Kamala Harris, speaking in Los Angeles on April 21, 2017, said local public safety officials have enough on their hands without enforcing federal immigration law.
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California Sen. Kamala Harris, speaking in Los Angeles on April 21, 2017, said local public safety officials have enough on their hands without enforcing federal immigration law.

If you’re an undocumented immigrant in the city of Sacramento, the local police are under orders not to inquire about your citizenship. The same goes in the unincorporated areas of Sacramento County patrolled by the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department.

Venture outside the region’s main urban centers, however, and police may be operating under different guidelines.

At least six law enforcement agencies in the Sacramento area operate under written policies allowing their officers to detain people suspected of entering the United States illegally, according to policy manuals obtained by The Bee.

For people arrested for certain drug offenses who “may not be a citizen of the United States,” the policies read, officers “shall notify” federal immigration agents if the suspect is not booked into county jail. Officers in the six jurisdictions, which include Folsom and unincorporated Yuba and Yolo counties, can also inform federal immigration agents of the immigration and citizenship status of anyone they encounter.

Some local departments with tough immigration policies on their books are now revising their guidelines as the Trump administration ramps up enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws and immigrant communities grow increasingly wary of law enforcement. Others insist they do not engage in any level of immigration enforcement despite what their written policies permit.

The policy manuals in all six jurisdictions were written by Lexipol, an Irvine-based private firm that comes up with policies for most of California’s small and midsize law enforcement agencies. In addition to immigration, Lexipol policies cover a wide range of topics including departments’ use-of-force guidelines and advice on how officers should conduct themselves when off-duty.

Immigration enforcement is permitted by the Yolo and Yuba counties’ sheriff’s departments and the police departments in Galt, Citrus Heights, Folsom and Lincoln. Several local law enforcement agencies did not respond to Bee requests to see their policies. By contrast, Sacramento has repeatedly declared itself a so-called sanctuary city that does not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, a stance that has put the city at odds with the Trump administration.

Lexipol program director Kevin Piper said the policies are based on federal and state laws as well as “best practices nationwide that have proven successful for law enforcement.” The final wording of an agency’s immigration policy is “completely a local jurisdiction decision,” he said.

“We give them a policy that is adaptable whether they are a sanctuary city or completely the opposite,” he said. “We constantly tell our clients that one of the reasons they may want to customize is that their community may want something different.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has begun tracking which California law enforcement agencies use Lexipol immigration policies. Julia Harumi Mass, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU, said policies that allow even limited cooperation between local agencies and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency “can still send the wrong message to the local community.”

“The Sacramento Police Department and other California police departments understand the harm that comes when local police and sheriffs engage in immigration enforcement,” she said.

For Sacramento police and sheriffs, the agencies’ internal policies, which were not created by Lexipol, prohibit officers from detaining people solely on the suspicion that they were in the United States illegally, according to the departments. The agencies also do not notify ICE when someone in their custody on a drug charge is suspected of not being a U.S. citizen, nor do they maintain citizenship or immigration status information in department records or exchange that information with other state, local or federal entities.

West Sacramento and Woodland also avoid immigration enforcement, according to the Lexipol policies employed by those departments. Those policies state that “enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws is the responsibility of the federal government” and that the departments “shall not unilaterally undertake immigration-related investigations.”

“We don’t go out looking for immigrants; that’s just not something we do,” said West Sacramento police Sgt. Roger Kinney.

In February, Elk Grove police Chief Bryan Noblett placed on hold his department’s Lexipol immigration enforcement guidelines. The policy, which was last updated Nov. 1, 2016, allowed police to detain undocumented immigrants and share information with ICE.

“With the national picture changing, there was a decision made by the chief to pull that (immigration policy), speak to our city attorney and get input as far as how we can make revisions that balance the concerns that residents in our city may have,” said Officer Christopher Trim, a department spokesman. Trim said the department is rewriting the policy internally instead of asking Lexipol to make the changes.

Under policy last revised in 2016, Roseville’s Police Department “does not do any proactive immigration enforcement,” said Assistant Chief Jim Maccoun. The department, however, is allowed to tell ICE if officers arrest a suspected noncitizen on a drug charge that won’t lead to jail time. Police officials are also permitted to communicate with ICE in case the agency is looking for a serious criminal – an occurrence that Maccoun said is rare.

In Yolo County, where the Board of Supervisors recently declared the county a safe haven for immigrants, sheriff’s officials insisted their deputies do not engage in immigration enforcement. “We view immigrant communities as people we are sworn to serve and protect, and our patrol deputies do not participate in immigration enforcement,” Sheriff Ed Prieto wrote in a public statement in February.

Doug Lee, the police chief in Lincoln, said his department’s written policy also doesn’t match how his 23-officer department operates.

“We do not take any action based on suspected immigration issues,” Lee said. “People at City Council meetings have expressed fear that we’re outside Little League games checking (immigration) status. We don’t want to do that nor do we have the resources to do that. We treat everyone the same.”

Galt police Chief Tod Sockman said he is planning to explore his department’s immigration policy and “figure out what should and shouldn’t remain.” Nearly half the city’s residents are Latino, and 1 in 10 residents is a noncitizen.

Sockman said the department “does not, as a matter of practice,” engage in immigration enforcement.

“There are a lot of people that are afraid because of what they’re reading and hearing,” he said. “Here in Galt, we appreciate everyone that’s here. We treat everybody fairly.”

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis