The goal of police agencies should always be to prevent crime from occurring, not simply respond and document the victimization of our citizens and neighborhoods. In order to effectively prevent crime, police officers must maintain the trust of the communities we protect. When police officers are forced to detect and detain immigrants who are here without authorization, this trust is easily broken. It inappropriately interjects bias into our profession and makes the compassionate service provided daily by police officers throughout the country less legitimate.
That's why reports that legislators in both the Senate and House of Representatives are advancing proposals that would essentially turn police officers into the long arm of immigration law are so troubling. These tactics aren't just political theater, and threaten public safety across our nation by making members of immigrant and Latino communities reluctant to come forward as victims of, or witnesses to, crime. Additionally, placing local law enforcement in the position of immigration agents inappropriately interjects bias into daily interactions.
The House Judiciary Committee's SAFE Act, an anti-immigrant bill undergoing markup in the House Judiciary Committee, also proposes to infuse information about civil immigration issues into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database system, cluttering a valuable law enforcement tool. An NCIC check can inform law enforcement officers within minutes whether the person he or she has detained is a threat to the officer or the community. Adding complicated, and unnecessary, immigration information will only hinder an officer's ability to do his job effectively and will lead to unconstitutionally extended detentions of individuals.
In police work, every second matters and every relationship with a community member counts. We shouldn't be forced to waste time, or lose trust with the communities we serve. Every individual regardless of race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation is entitled to equal access to law enforcement resources. The measure of successful immigration reform should never be based upon the number of violators detained but upon the number of new citizens we welcome to our nation.
Changes proposed to S744, the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, as well as the SAFE Act would compel law enforcement officers to engage in immigration enforcement activities or risk losing funding. Proposed amendments to the Senate bill also would require that civil immigration status information be entered into the NCIC database.
Chris Burbank has been with the Salt Lake City Police Department since 1991. He became the 45th Chief of the Department in March 2006.