Tanned, toned and looking as if he's aged little in the 16 years since he left office, former LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates returned to City Hall on Monday to wade into a contentious debate over police enforcement and illegal immigrants.
Gates helped craft Special Order 40, the 1979 measure that limits when officers can inquire about the immigration status of crime victims and suspects.
The rule has long been controversial, but this year there has been a push by some City Council members to amend it amid concerns that it prevents police from effectively dealing with gang members who are illegal immigrants.
Special Order 40 became the subject of intense debate earlier this year after the slaying of high school football player Jamiel Shaw II. Shaw was allegedly gunned down by a reputed gang member who was in the country illegally. Pedro Espinoza, who awaits trial on a murder charge, was released from Los Angeles County Jail the day before the killing.
Led by Shaw's parents, opponents of Special Order 40 say the killing of the teenager illustrates how LAPD officers are limited by the policy.
Responding to those concerns, Councilman Dennis Zine proposed modifying Special Order 40 with language specifying that police notify immigration authorities if that individual was not in the country legally.
But on Monday, Gates appeared to suggest there was nothing wrong with the policy, just that politics had muddled the meaning behind it.
Dressed in a beige suit and at times showing glimpses of his combative style, Gates said blaming the Police Department for not doing its job was "a public relations problem with this council and this city."
"When Councilman Zine asked me about Special Order 40 and whether or not it prohibited police officers from doing something about gangs, I said absolutely not. It doesn't," Gates said.
"Built into [the] special order is a part that, if somebody violates the law and the officer brings them in, the first thing they're supposed to do is notify immigration if they believe they're undocumented," Gates said. "That's in Special Order 40. But somewhere it was lost. Never, ever, ever was Special Order 40 designed, written to keep law enforcement from enforcing the law against a criminal."
After two hours of testimony and public comment, the committee put off a vote on the policy so the LAPD could prepare a report for the council on its training.
Police Commissioner Andrea Ordin was the first of several LAPD officials to address the council's Public Safety Committee, all of whom tried to persuade its members not to amend Special Order 40.
"We urge this board to again recognize that the current policy of the Los Angeles Police Department is the right one," she said.
Committee member Greig Smith, a reserve police officer who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley, challenged Ordin, saying Special Order 40 amounts to LAPD officers picking and choosing which federal laws to help enforce and ignore.
Ordin countered that LAPD officers need to walk "a delicate balance" between cooperating with federal immigration authorities and focusing on enforcement of local laws.
Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz concurred with Ordin, saying the current rules give residents in immigrant communities confidence that they can cooperate with police on cases without fear of being asked about their immigration status. A change to the policy would in effect "be empowering criminals . . . essentially putting criminals out of our reach."
Diaz emphasized that contrary to claims made by opponents, LAPD officers do cooperate with federal immigration agents. "There is nothing in the current order that should be seen as limiting" the department.
LAPD Deputy Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur told the committee that the LAPD had already embarked on a department-wide training program to clear up misconceptions about Special Order 40. The training, she said, would be conducted every 12 to 18 months.