For Sterling "Ernie" Norris, Special Order 40 is a barrier to effective policing in Los Angeles. Modifying the rules is not enough, he argues. Special Order 40 must be killed.
Norris, an attorney for Washington, D.C.-based Judicial Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog group, said his organization is seeking to give street cops "the total freedom" to contact federal immigration agents when they come across illegal immigrants.
Judicial Watch filed suit in Los Angeles federal court last year in an effort to overturn the 29-year-old policy, arguing it was unconstitutional because it effectively prevented full cooperation between local police and federal agents in enforcing immigration laws.
Under current rules, Los Angeles police officers cannot stop people for the sole purpose of asking about immigration status.
But Norris said a lack of police involvement gives carte blanche to those who come to the U.S. illegally. That would stop if officers were allowed to inquire about immigration status, he said.
The silver-haired San Fernando Valley Republican, who served 35 years in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, is no stranger to challenging the system.
A victims' rights advocate and strong proponent of the death penalty, Norris wrote the 1991 "speedy trial initiative," a state ballot measure that gave prosecutors more latitude while seeking to cut down the time it took to hold a trial.
Judicial Watch filed an earlier suit against the LAPD, saying the department failed to turn over documents showing how Special Order 40 is enforced and how officers are trained on the rule and disciplined when it is violated.
Another group has also challenged Special Order 40, citing an obscure state code that appears to require police to report to federal authorities the names of any illegal immigrant arrested for drug trafficking or possession.
Any amendments to Special Order 40, Norris acknowledged, would place an additional burden on an already overtaxed police force.
But he said the benefits outweighed any negatives because it would serve as a true deterrent to illegal immigration.
He dismissed the concerns of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief William J. Bratton that gutting the rule would chill cooperation with police in criminal cases.
"It's a ruse that these people aren't coming forward," Norris said. The victims and suspects, he said, "are more scared of the gang members than the police."