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Plan would amend LAPD policy

Police would be required to report gang members in the U.S. illegally, even if they weren't under arrest.

April 11, 2008|Richard Winton, Andrew Blankstein and David Zahniser | Times Staff Writers

LAPD officers would be required to report gang members found to be illegal immigrants to federal authorities under a proposal to be introduced in the Los Angeles City Council today. The proposal, by Councilman Dennis Zine, a former LAPD officer, would result in a closer relationship between the department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and is likely to generate controversy.

The plan comes amid a new debate over Special Order 40, a Los Angeles Police Department rule that defines when officers can inquire about the immigration status of suspects. The 29-year-old rule is a cornerstone of the department's policy toward immigrants and is designed to encourage illegal residents who are victims of crimes or witnesses to cooperate with police without fear of deportation.

Zine described his plan as a modification to Special Order 40 that would formalize how police deal with illegal immigrant gang members. Under the proposal, LAPD officers who are investigating gang members who they believe are illegal immigrants would be required to check on their immigration status -- even if the suspects are not under arrest.

If the gang member is found to be in the country illegally, officers would be required to notify immigration authorities. Zine said the hope was that federal officials would take the gang members into custody.

"If an officer stops an individual . . . who is determined to be a gang member, and it's determined they are also illegally here, then the department should notify immigration," Zine said. "It directs the resources against the gangs. Immigration needs to use its resources to go after gangs."

Zine's proposal would not overturn Special Order 40, which states that "officers shall not initiate police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person." But Zine's amendment would be more specific as to how officers can inquire into the immigration status of suspected gang members.

LAPD Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz said such actions were not directly prohibited by Special Order 40. Some officers already check the immigration status of gang members they detain -- but others don't because they believe it's not permitted under department rules.

Diaz said the new rules would spell out how officers deal with such cases.

"Special Order 40 prohibits only two things. It prohibits our officers from arresting individuals for illegally entering the country, which is a federal misdemeanor," Diaz said. "It also does not allow our officers to initiate an investigation solely for the purpose of discovering a person's immigration status."

He added that Special Order 40 was often mischaracterized and that the LAPD was considering further clarifying to the public and its officers what is allowed.

Special Order 40 has long been controversial.

Two anti-illegal immigration groups have filed suit against the department, saying the rule violates federal and state law.

This week, the family of an L.A. High School football star, who was allegedly slain by a gang member here illegally, appealed to the City Council to amend Special Order 40.

Jamiel Shaw and his wife, Anita, a U.S. Army sergeant who has been serving in Iraq, proposed that the LAPD policy be changed so officers would routinely check the immigration status of known gang members who are crime suspects, which he said would make it easier to immediately deport them.

Jamiel Shaw Jr., who was killed March 2, was on his way home when he was fatally shot by a suspect who was later identified as Pedro Espinoza. Prosecutors allege that Espinoza killed Shaw hours after being released from jail on weapons charges.

When he was arrested in that case in Culver City, police said he told officers that he was a U.S. citizen.

But after Shaw's slaying, immigration officials determined he had been born in Mexico and had crossed the border illegally with his family at age 4.

Several City Council members expressed skepticism at the Shaws' proposal.

And on Thursday, there was little immediate comment about Zine's plan. Several council members said they had not had time to review it.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a former police chief, said officers can already do some of the things that Zine is proposing, particularly if they come across a suspect they know was recently arrested and deported.

"If you're [an officer] driving down the street, and you see someone and say, 'Let's stop them to see if they're here illegally' -- Special Order 40 says you can't do that," Parks said. "But if you see someone and say there's so-and-so, he's foreign-born, and he was sent out of this country and he's back, and he shouldn't be, you can stop him."

Parks warned that officers should look into a person's immigration status only after they suspect that that person has committed a crime.

In recent years, Southern California jail systems have teamed up with immigration authorities to better screen illegal immigrants under detention.

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