“Sanctuary Cities” and Community Policing

 

A version of the following was written as a backgrounder on the issue of “sanctuary cities,” prepared for a teach-in on the City of Takoma Park’s “sanctuary” ordinance on February 4, 2017. The event attracted more than 350 people. You can download a version of this issue brief as a PDF from this link.

Executive Order on Interior Enforcement

On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that would, in part, punish any local jurisdiction that has adopted certain community policing tactics designed to establish trust between local law enforcement and communities where there is a significant immigrant population.

The executive order included a section tilted “Sanctuary Jurisdictions.” The order stated in part: “It is the policy of the executive branch to ensure, to the fullest extent of the law, that a State, or a political subdivision of a State, shall comply with [federal law having to do with prohibiting jurisdictions from banning communication between local officers and federal immigration officers].” The order directs the Attorney General (AG) to “take appropriate enforcement action against any entity … which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of Federal law” and it directs the AG and Secretary of Homeland Security to ensure that jurisdictions that do not comply are not eligible for federal grants.

Community Policing and Undocumented Immigrants

The term “sanctuary jurisdiction” has no legal or common definition, but states and localities that have some formal or informal policy limiting cooperation between their local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities are often called “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

Many communities with significant immigrant populations have community policing policies to keep local law enforcement agencies out of the business of federal immigration enforcement. In doing so, they seek to build trust between local police and the community—including the immigrant community—so that community members feel they can safely approach police to report a crime or volunteer information about a crime. Public safety of the entire community is placed in jeopardy if immigrants fear the local police because they believe they will be deported.

A 2006 position paper by the Major Cities Chiefs states the problem for police:

Major urban areas throughout the nation are comprised of significant immigrant communities. … Local agencies are charged with protecting these diverse populations…. The reality is that undocumented immigrants are a significant part of the local populations major police agencies must protect, serve and police. Local agencies have worked very hard to build trust and a spirit of cooperation…. If the undocumented immigrant’s primary concern is that they will be deported …, then they will not come forward and provide needed assistance and cooperation.

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