Order allows felony arrests
LAPD can nab deportees who re-enter U.S.

By Dan Laidman, Staff Writer

A long-standing order designed to restrict Los Angeles police from enforcing immigration laws does not bar officers from pursuing deported felons who have re-entered the country, Assistant Police Chief George Gascon told the Police Commission on Tuesday.
The interpretation of Special Order 40 - the 27-year-old policy that prohibits officers from arresting people for illegally entering the country and from investigating a person's immigration status - comes as Los Angeles Police Department leaders get ready to finalize a department directive on how officers should interpret the order's restrictions.

"We deal with violent felons who are wanted, regardless of what their immigration status is," Gascon told the new Police Commission. "We have always acted upon information regarding this very specific population."

While Gascon said Tuesday that the department does not plan to change the order, the issue has been controversial in the Latino community, with some believing clarification efforts could loosen the order's protections for immigrants and lead to racial or ethnic profiling by officers.

"How do you make sure that the policy doesn't spill into other abuses?" said Linton Joaquin of the National Immigration Law Center. "Our concerns are that the department not get into the business of immigration enforcement."

The discussion also comes amid increasing regional and national debate about immigration as some Orange County police agencies have moved toward immigration enforcement and the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed strict new laws.

Francisco Rivera, president of the National Central American Roundtable, asked the Police Commission to "postpone the adoption of the clarification because of the climate of fear" generated by actions like those in Orange County and Congress.

He also called for a thorough accounting of contacts between the LAPD and federal immigration authorities.

Special Order 40, adopted in 1979, is designed to encourage undocumented immigrants to cooperate in reporting crimes and sharing information.

But the LAPD initiated the current clarification process about a year ago after news media reports said some officers thought the order prohibited them from apprehending deported felons who returned to Los Angeles, Gascon said.

An article from late 2004 by Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said Special Order 40 "creates a safe haven for illegal criminals" and that officers were being blocked from arresting Mara Salvatrucha gang members.

Gascon said police have actually been able to apprehend such criminals all along and the clarification aims to clear up confusion about all situations in which officers can work with immigration officials.

The original text of Special Order 40 notes that supervisors can notify federal authorities of an arrestee's undocumented status when they have been picked up on suspicion of serious offenses.

Gascon reiterated that Tuesday, and added that in some cases officers can also contact the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency before an arrest.

While that is not mentioned specifically in the order, it is allowed because the LAPD would be checking on those who have federal felony arrest warrants, said Lt. Paul Vernon, a department spokesman.

Neither the LAPD nor Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had data available Tuesday on the number of local arrestees that have been handed over to the federal agency.

"We do, under certain circumstances, work with the LAPD, but understanding they have certain parameters they're confined to," said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for the federal immigration agency.

"By far and away, the most common way we would end up taking custody of a case that originated with LAPD would be through the L.A. County jail system," Kice said.

The Police Commission includes Andrea Ordin, a former top federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who worked on the establishment of Special Order 40 in 1979 with then-Chief Daryl Gates.

Ordin said Tuesday that community groups have "legitimate concerns" but, along with her colleagues, she indicated support for the department's overall effort.

Commissioner Alan Skobin said he is grateful that the LAPD is risking criticism in order to clear up rampant confusion.

"This is one of those hot-potato issues where the safe thing would be to leave it alone," he said.

The LAPD has been working with community groups on the clarification and officials plan to consult again before delivering a final draft to the commission for approval in March or April, Gascon said.

Dan Laidman, (213) 978-0390