LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said his  police officers will refuse to turn over some arrestees to federal immigration authorities under a new policy announced
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said his police officers will refuse to turn over some arrestees to federal immigration authorities under a new policy announced Thursday. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Police Department will refuse to turn over some arrestees to federal immigration authorities under a new policy announced Thursday by Chief Charlie Beck.

Beck said the LAPD won't honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement "detainer" requests for most undocumented immigrants arrested for public nuisance offenses or low-grade misdemeanors.

It will still honor the requests, Beck said, for people charged with felonies, drunken driving or crimes of violence, as well as those suspected of gang membership and those with prior felony records.

The department now honors all ICE detainer requests, which can lead to deportation.

The LAPD gets about 3,400 ICE detainer requests a year, and Beck said it could refuse to honor about 400 under the new policy. Those numbers are extrapolated annual figures based on a six-month internal study and are a small fraction of the LAPD's overall 105,000 annual arrests.

Beck said the new policy should go into effect Jan. 1. Police have not finalized the list of offenses that will be covered, and they will accept public comment before it goes into effect. As an example of people who probably won't be detained under the new policy, Beck mentioned someone charged with drinking in public.

An ICE spokeswoman said the agency had no immediate comment.

During a press conference at police headquarters downtown, Beck said he expected criticism from both sides: those who think he's going too far and those who think he's not going far enough.

But he said it's not a local police department's job to enforce federal immigration rules. He added that he believes strong families help prevent crime, so deporting people for misdemeanor arrests is "counterproductive."

"I don't want to be the cause of the uprooting of parents from their children," Beck said.

In a statement, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the policy will keep families together and help "rebuild the relationship between the immigrant community and local police."

The LAPD announcement came three days after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have gone even further in limiting police cooperation with immigration authorities. That bill, the Trust Act, would have barred police from detaining people for possible deportation unless they were charged with serious or violent crimes.

Beck said the new policy is not in reaction to the governor's veto. It had been in the works for a while but needed legal approval from the city attorney, he said.

Beck said the policy does not go as far as the Trust Act and will "strike the right balance," allowing deportation of dangerous people but also building trust in immigrant communities.

Beck said that trust has been eroded by the federal Secure Communities program. Under that program, fingerprints that already are sent by local police and sheriffs to the FBI are sent on to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, and checked against immigration databases.

From July 2009 through July 2012, there were 25,223 Los Angeles County arrestees removed under Secure Communities, according to ICE.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles welcomed the move as a way to ensure strong relationships between police and immigrants.

"This is a small step in the right direction," said CHIRLA's policy director, Joseph Villela.

A spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that wants to stop illegal immigration, said the LAPD is flouting federal law and ignoring Brown's veto for political reasons.

LAPD PRESS RELEASE REGARDING IMMIGRATION POLICY CHANGE

At a Media Availability Briefing at 11 a.m. today at the Los Angeles Police headquarters, Chief Charlie Beck announced proposed changes to the way the Los Angeles Police Department handles Immigration and Customs Enforcement detentions of some undocumented immigrant arrests.

In the spirit of keeping with the intended purpose of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities program (S-Comm) signed into law by the President of the United States September 30 2008, in which "ICE prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators," the LAPD is proposing to no longer grant an ICE Detainer Request without first reviewing the seriousness of the offense for which the person is being held as well as their prior arrest history and gang involvement.

The Department is currently developing the list of criminal offenses which in its view do not meet the intended purpose of the S-Comm program (e.g. public nuisance and/or low-grade misdemeanor offenses).

Under the new proposal, individuals arrested for one of these low-grade misdemeanor offenses will not be subject to continued detention on the basis of an ICE Detainer Request absent additional information from ICE and/or prior felony arrest(s), or if the individual is a documented gang member. The Department will still honor detention requests on all felony and high-grade misdemeanor arrests.

Our goal is to implement the new protocols by January 1, 2013. We will be meeting with stakeholders' representatives, and the specific protocols developed will be sent to the Board of Police Commissioners for their review and for public comments prior to implementation.

FAIR spokesman Ira Mehlman compared the move to President Barack Obama stopping some deportations of young people even though Congress failed to pass a law authorizing that policy. Mehlman called those policies "an assault on the rule of law."

Anticipating such criticism, Beck told reporters, "Please do not portray this as `the LAPD is instituting its own Trust Act'."

Beck said the new policy is legal because a recent opinion by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich found police have discretion to decline detainer requests.

A spokesman for the city attorney would not release that opinion, saying it was confidential advice to a client.

Mehlman said it's only a matter of time until someone who could have been deported is instead released and later commits a horrific crime. 

Asked whether the move could make Los Angeles a "sanctuary city," a common criticism by groups such as FAIR, Mehlman said, "I'm not sure how you could make it any more of a sanctuary city than it already has been, but I guess the LAPD is going to try here."

Since 1979, the LAPD has been governed by Special Order 40, which bars officers from arresting someone for illegally entering the country under federal law or stopping people solely to find out whether they're here legally.

Immigration authorities will still get the fingerprints of most of those arrested by the LAPD, because the L.A. County Sheriff's Department sends them to the FBI when people are booked into its jails.

When an ensuing detainer request doesn't meet the LAPD's new standards, Beck said, the department will ask ICE for further reasons to detain the person.

If ICE doesn't provide a more compelling reason, the LAPD will not honor the request.

Beck said he thinks other police departments should consider similar policies, but he recognizes every city is different.

Mentioning L.A.'s huge Hispanic and immigrant population, he said, "A police department is a reflection of community standards. I believe this is the right way to police Los Angeles."


Staff Writer Rick Orlov contributed to this report.