Group discusses ways to teach police about migrant law
Group discusses how Phoenix police should handle immigration law; mayor appoints own committee
Lindsey Collom and Casey Newton
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 8, 2008 09:23 PM

Phoenix police should put certain officers through Immigration and Customs Enforcement training, while all others should learn more about immigration laws and how it affects their work, a committee assembled by Phoenix police Chief Jack Harris recommended.

The suggestions were meant to help quell critics' claims that Phoenix police don't do enough to enforce immigration laws, but they stopped short of drastically altering Phoenix's current operations order.

The 23-member group also considered the Tucson Police Department's practice of giving officers discretion to contact immigration authorities. Participants say they also studied other examples.

But before group members could study any other police policies, their work came to a halt because Mayor Phil Gordon convened his own four-member advisory panel to conduct the same study.

Details of Harris' committee were released more than a week before Gordon's group is set to finalize its recommendations.

Gordon appointed his panel in December, six weeks after Harris' committee was formed. The move came after increasing pressure on the mayor and other local officials to take stronger action against illegal immigrants.

The mayor asked the panel to craft a policy that would allow police to notify ICE when any law has been violated by any person suspected of being an illegal immigrant. Gordon has said the resulting policy should uphold constitutional rights and prohibit racial or ethnic profiling.

Operations Order 1.4 became a lightning rod for criticism in September following the shooting death of a Phoenix police officer for which an illegal immigrant was charged.

The current policy prevents officers from asking about immigration status when a person is a victim or witness, when officers are contacted during family disturbances that lead to domestic-violence charges, when a person would be cited and released for a misdemeanor offense and when a person is stopped for traffic violations. Police also cannot stop a person solely to determine immigration status.

Phoenix's policy is in step with other police agencies in the Valley and nationwide.

Phoenix police and other officers do have the ability to notify immigration officials when immigration comes into question during criminal investigations.

Harris' group, all Phoenix police employees, emphasized that their focus should be on criminal activity. They also noted concerns of racial profiling and impeding civil rights.

"There's constitutional issues, legal-rights issues; it's just not as simple as arresting everybody," said Assistant Chief Michael McCort, who oversees Harris' committee. "We have a lot of learning to do and a lot of research to do. There are issues you have to come up with and look at and take into account. We've had to take a really long, careful look at it . . . We want to do what's right for the community."

Gordon's panel includes former U.S. attorneys Paul Charlton and Jose Rivera, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods and former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley.

Charlton said Harris presented his group's findings to the panel early on, but Harris would not comment.

"It's a difficult question, and we're all wrestling with it in some way," Charlton said. "Our discussions have been very professional and very reasoned based on our experiences."

In the meantime, Harris' workgroup has been in limbo.

McCort said once Gordon's panel submits its report to the chief, the workgroup will look it over and draft a policy.

The recommendations could be in Harris' hands by late next week.

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