Will the AZ Immigration Law Make the Job of Police Harder?

Charlie Beck, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, has spoken out against Arizona’s new law on illegal aliens.  The only surprise in this is that it took so long.

Chief Beck is an honorable man and is -- so far, at least -- respected within the ranks of the LAPD, but he is also a man who knows where his bread is buttered.  He is an appointee of the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, who enthusiastically advocates amnesty for illegal immigrants, and it is inconceivable that Beck would have been named to the job if he could not be reliably counted on to parrot the mayor’s opinions on a range of matters, most especially illegal immigration.

Beck was one of several police chiefs in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday who met with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the Arizona law. “This is not a law that increases public safety,” said Beck, as quoted in the Washington Post. “This is a bill that makes it much harder for us to do our jobs.  Crime will go up if this becomes law in Arizona or in any other state.”


It is disappointing to see Beck joining the ranks of alarmists predicting all manner of calamity should the Arizona law take effect as scheduled on July 29.  It is all the more disappointing to see him do so by mischaracterizing what the law says.  The Los Angeles Times reported his statement thus:

Beck said that his officers are guided by a different set of rules than the ones laid out in the Arizona law. For more than three decades the LAPD has followed a policy that prohibits officers from initiating contact with someone solely to determine whether he or she is in the country legally.

Assuming the L.A. Times has accurately paraphrased Beck’s statement, we can reach either of two possible conclusions: that he is misinformed on the language of the new law, or he is deliberately distorting the truth to serve a political agenda.  Neither choice is comforting.

Like the LAPD policy in place since 1979, the Arizona law specifically prohibits officers from stopping anyone for the sole purpose of determining his immigration status.  Arizona goes beyond the limits of the LAPD policy only in that it allows inquiry into an individual’s immigration status after a detention based on reasonable suspicion rather than an arrest based on probable cause.  The reasonable suspicion must concern some crime other than illegal immigration.  This important provision has been widely reported but just as widely ignored by those who seek to discredit the new law and forestall its enforcement.

It is also disappointing to see Beck and other police chiefs from outside Arizona rendering such harsh  judgment on a law that was duly considered and drafted through that state’s democratic process, and one that enjoys such widespread public support within the state.  The people of Arizona have acted to confront what they perceive to be a problem, one that has gone unaddressed by the federal government for far too long.  The law is merely an attempt to deal with the farcical notion that anyone who manages to sneak into the United States and escape detection within a few miles of the border should then be allowed to live untroubled by the prospect of deportation for as long as he chooses.  The status quo advocated by Beck and others has police officers blithely ignoring violations of some laws while trying to enforce others.  In a nation of laws, this is unacceptable.

One hopes that Chief Beck, in dealing with those who disagree with him on this issue, will be less arrogant than was his predecessor, former LAPD Chief William Bratton.  Back in 2003, Bratton was a guest of KABC radio’s Ken Minyard when a caller raised the issue of police officers taking a role in the enforcement of immigration laws.  Bratton’s response fairly oozed with the condescension for which he is so widely known.  “Inasmuch as California has pretty much indicated they don’t want the police involved in that issue,” he said, “we’re out of that business.  So that’s the reality of California.  If you don’t like it leave the state.” (The printed word doesn’t come close to capturing Bratton’s characteristic hauteur.  You can hear the exchange in RealPlayer format here.)