More than 200 Orange residents and others from around the Southland attended a City Council meeting during which Police Chief John R. Robertson was accused of turning Orange into a haven for illegal immigrants.
"One thing we know about immigrants is that they communicate back. And they will say how they've been treated," Otis Graham, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, said at the Tuesday night meeting. "The word will get out that they take care of you in Orange, whether you are a citizen or not."
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a community-based policing program that Robertson implemented late this summer in the troubled Villa Santiago apartments. But it quickly became clear that many in the audience were upset that an area containing illegal immigrants had been singled out to receive special services from the city.
"The simple solution to the illegal (immigrant) problem is deportation," Janett McCammon, a resident, said. "To sit here and ignore this problem is an outrage to the taxpayer."
The Santiago Villa apartments, at 3138 E. Maple Ave., is where the Border Patrol last year staged a controversial raid that resulted in the deportation of more than 200 people and sparked outrage among immigrant rights groups.
Since then, three police officers have been assigned to walk the beat in the area surrounding the apartments in a police program that began in late August.
Moreover, volunteers now come to the apartments to tutor residents in English and help students with their studies. Recently, a day was set aside for residents and others in the community to clean the streets in the area.
Robertson, in a 20-minute speech, defended the program, saying that crime and calls for service in the area have decreased by more than 50% since the program began.
"It's a carrot-and-stick approach," he said. "Crime will not be tolerated, but social programs could work for long-term stabilization. But if the goal of the community is to change the ethnic makeup of Orange, it's not going to happen."
He added: "It's been the first success in that area in over eight years."
However, many of the program's critics said they do not have a problem with the concept of community policing. Rather, they said, they disagree with the way it is being carried out in Orange.
"I commend the police chief for his community policing efforts, but I disagree with the decision to include illegal aliens in the effort," said Bill King, president of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. "It appears he's willing to bargain away the laws of the land to gain cooperation from law-breaking people."
Several residents from the neighborhoods surrounding the Santiago Villa apartments came out to support the officers walking the beat, saying they have seen a marked improvement in their day-to-day lives since the community policing program began.
"It looks like gang prevention and welfare prevention in a big way," said resident Royal Crowell. "Obviously, the policies work."