Hutchens: Cooperation is Central to Law Enforcement

One of the most significant advancements made in the public safety arena over the last decade and a half has been the improved collaboration amongst law enforcement agencies at all levels of government. A concerted effort has been made to remove bureaucratic systems and communication barriers that had previously hindered responses to public safety challenges. These reform efforts have enabled successes in addressing threats to the homeland, responding to large scale emergencies, and in daily patrol work. Multilateral efforts allow law enforcement the opportunity to “connect the dots” on key cases and provide for more efficient use of taxpayer resources. Unfortunately legislation pending in Sacramento risks upending this best practice.

California Senate Bill 54 would severely restrict local law enforcement’s interactions with federal immigration enforcement authorities (ICE) on matters that are crucial to public safety. The bill regulates joint task force work, limits our ability to communicate with ICE regarding criminal undocumented immigrants in our custody, and outright precludes relaying information on undocumented immigrants who commit crimes like domestic violence and human trafficking. While the proposal allows some ability to communicate with ICE regarding violent offenders, the broader regulatory barriers created by this legislation will set back the progressive advancements made by law enforcement over the past 15 years.

Shared communication between the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the federal government has resulted in several dangerous undocumented offenders being removed from our community. Absent this communication such offenders would be released back onto the streets once they have completed their local sentences. In the past year the communication has enabled action on numerous serious offenders, examples include:

  • A 45-year-old male from Vietnam arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.
  • A 56-year old male from Canada arrested for illegal narcotic sales.
  • A 21-year-old male from Mexico arrested on child molestation charges.
  • A 41-year-old male from Honduras booked for attempted murder.
  • A 29-year-old male from Mexico arrested on kidnapping and battery charges.
  • A 26-year-old male from El Salvador booked for domestic violence.
  • A 36-year-old male Egyptian arrested for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

Proponents of this bill argue that the legislation is necessary to ensure local police agencies are not participating in the enforcement of immigration law. This is a false premise. Enforcing immigration law is solely a federal responsibility. OCSD does not play a role in the day-to-day enforcement of these laws, and it is not part of our primary mission. In carrying out our patrol duties, we do not ask the immigration status of suspects, witnesses, or those who call to report crimes. Furthermore, California’s TRUST and TRUTH Act already provide legal assurances that coordination with the federal government is limited to violators of criminal law.

Legislative efforts to restrict communications amongst law enforcement agencies is not limited to the immigration issue. AB 90 would severely limit the effectiveness of a shared database utilized by local law enforcement to combat the activity of criminal gangs. AB 1578 proposes to restrict local law enforcement’s cooperation with the federal government in regards to marijuana enforcement, jeopardizing operations that target the profiteers of drug addiction. These three bills, however well-intentioned, remove vital tools for preserving public safety.

Statements from SB 54’s author indicate the motivation for the bill stems from a desire to show support for vulnerable immigrants. Unfortunately the proponent’s means of making a political statement compromises public safety. The principle of open communication amongst law enforcement agencies is non-partisan and should endure no matter who the voters elect to serve in office.   We can have varying opinions on immigration policy, but let’s stand united in support of efforts that will successfully keep dangerous offenders out of our communities.

Sandra Hutchens, Orange County Sheriff 

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org