WASHINGTON — Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank launched a two-pronged attack Wednesday against new laws that seek to convert local police officers into enforcers of federal immigration laws.
First, he joined a delegation of big-city police chiefs who told U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that a new Arizona immigration law — requiring police to check for proof of legal residency if they have reasonable suspicion that people are illegal immigrants — will drive a wedge between officers and Hispanics, and hurt law enforcement.
Second, he released an academic study that concluded a recently passed Utah law, SB81, which allows local officers to be cross-deputized as immigration officers, harms crime reporting and public trust.
"Because of the belief that officers are engaging in profiling and biased behavior that laws similar to this interject into the process, we believe it will be negative and potentially harmful to the interactions that we have," Burbank told the Deseret News after his meeting with Holder.
"People will be less likely to report crimes, less likely to participate with the police," he said. "It will create a whole segment of our population that can be victimized."
Burbank added that he told Holder "stories of individuals who were victims of robbery who are actually citizens, but because they have relatives living with them who are not citizens, did not report violent crime to the police" for fear of deportation.
Burbank was among nine big-city chiefs sent to talk to Holder by the Police Executive Research Forum. Other chiefs came from such cities as Tucson, Ariz.; Los Angeles; San Jose, Calif.; Philadelphia; Houston and Minneapolis. Phoenix Public Safety Manager Jack Harris requested the meeting but did not attend because he returned to Phoenix early after an officer was shot and killed.
Burbank said Holder told the nine chiefs who met with him that concerns they raised are "a priority for him, and that he and the president want to look for solutions to the problem."
The Salt Lake police chief added that the meeting "was very encouraging," because Holder "actually engaged us and challenged us on things we said. It created a very healthy dialogue and gave me a respect that he understood the issue."
Meanwhile, Burbank released a study that blasts the Utah law that would allow cross deputizing local police as immigration officers. The study was conducted by the Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity, which interviewed Hispanics, whites and police officers in Utah for their views about the law and researched other crime data. Burbank is listed as one of four co-authors.
The report — titled "Deputizing Discrimination?" — concluded that "the data suggest that law enforcement is likely to see everything they fear: a reduction in crime-reporting and public trust."
The study found the law led Latinos to say it hurt their trust in police. The report also said that white Salt Lake City residents were found to have a misperception of how much crime is committed by Latinos — which it said may create a false foundation of support for the law among whites.
The study's surveys found that whites believe Latinos commit about half the violent crime in Salt Lake City. But police statistics show "Latinos perpetrate only 26 percent of the violent crime. This is slightly less than expected, given that they account for 28 percent of the population."
Burbank said while supporters of the Arizona and Utah laws contend that they will reduce crime, "there's not a single study that I've seen that (undocumented immigrants) are actually responsible for more crime. In fact, they are underrepresented when it comes to crime."
Other police chiefs echoed Burbank's assertions.
Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor told reporters after meeting with Holder, "When you enact legislation that makes any subset of that community feel like they are being targeted specifically … that damages our capability to obtain information to solve the crimes."
John Harris, police chief in Sahuarita, Ariz., and president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, said the new Arizona law "puts Arizona law enforcement right in the middle. You have one side say we're going to do racial profiling. You have another side that allows people who don't think we're doing enough to sue us."
Harris added, "It's very, very divisive for us. It makes it very difficult for us to police our communities."