News & Politics

Misleading 'L.A. Times' Article Quotes Cops Who Don't Want to Enforce Trump's Policies

Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, visits Mexico in 2016. (Rex Features via AP Images)

Call it Sally Yates Syndrome.

Ms. Yates, you’ll recall, was the Justice Department official who chose to grandstand in her refusal to defend President Trump’s clumsily executed but clearly legal executive order on refugee admissions to the country. In the absence of a sitting attorney general, it fell to Ms. Yates to defend the order against the legal challenges that would surely arise. Just as any attorney has a duty to defend a client he may find loathsome, Ms. Yates was obligated to defend a policy with which she disagreed. She refused and was fired, an outcome she deserved and could only have expected.

Yes, after an eight-year hiatus, dissent is once again fashionable, and it is all the rage in some circles to display one’s opposition to President Trump and his policies.

I’m sorry to report that this fashion has now infected some police officers, even to such an extent that they are willing to be quoted in a newspaper saying they will defy their duty and the law. On Monday, the Los Angeles Times ran a story under the headline:

“I’m Not Going To Do It.” Police Aren’t Eager To Help Trump Enforce Immigration Laws

Like so much that appears in the media, especially in the reporting on the Trump administration, the story is at once accurate and deceptive.

It is accurate in that the reporters (the byline lists three) quoted a handful of LAPD officers and detectives who expressed reservations about the president’s proposed expanded role for local police officers in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. But is deceptive because it conveys the impression that these opinions are widely shared among the rank and file on the department.

They are not.

I served for more than 30 years with the LAPD, and since my retirement I have continued to work as a police officer for a smaller agency in the suburbs. I remain in contact, both professionally and socially, with some of my former LAPD colleagues, and though I haven’t conducted a scientific survey, I am confident that the officers quoted in the Times story represent a small fraction of them.

The story opens with an account of two detectives searching for witnesses to a crime the day after President Trump was elected. They approached a group of Latino workers and introduced themselves. The workers got up and walked away, with one of them saying, “Trump is coming.”

The Trump reference sounds a bit too contrived to me, but even if the encounter happened as described, let us assume that these detectives are not as incompetent as the story portrays them. Did they really abandon their efforts to interview these potential witnesses at the first sign of reluctance?

People can be hesitant to come forward as witnesses for a variety of reasons, ranging from fear of retaliation to the plain and simple hassle of going to court, which in Los Angeles is often more of a burden than it should be. Fear of deportation is not an excuse I’ve often heard, and when I have heard it I’ve been able to allay those fears with just a few minutes of conversation. As the detectives described in the story should know, it’s all in how you talk to people.

But such nuances of police work do not fit the narrative the Los Angeles Times wishes to convey, which is that the president’s immigration stance is so wrongheaded that even police officers oppose it. (Additions to the genre appear in the paper daily; the latest is here.)

One of the detectives is quoted to illustrate the point. Says Brent Hopkins of the LAPD’s Wilshire Division:

It is my job to investigate crimes. And if I can’t do that, I can’t get justice for people, because all of a sudden, I’m losing my witnesses or my victims because they’re afraid that talking to me is going to lead to them getting deported.

If Detective Hopkins is so unskilled in his trade as to allow witnesses to be dissuaded by unfounded fears, perhaps he should choose another line of work. Or perhaps he is hoping to advance within the LAPD, in which case his espousing of this bilge makes perfect sense.

A city’s police department is, after all, a political entity, and this is nowhere more true than in Los Angeles, where Chief Charlie Beck long ago learned to mimic the leftist beliefs held by his political patrons: former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who first appointed him to the post; and current Mayor Eric Garcetti. Both Villaraigosa and Garcetti are famously supportive of illegal immigrants, and the city council is uniformly populated with people of similar beliefs. Anyone seeking to promote within the LAPD, especially to the rank of captain or higher, must learn to conduct himself accordingly.

Let it be known that you favor the building of a border wall or a crackdown on illegal immigration, and you can abandon any hope of promotion. So, it’s no surprise that among the officers quoted in the story are a deputy chief and a captain, both of whom reliably toe the department line on immigration:

At community meetings, [Capt. Martin Baeza] tries to tamp down fears, answering questions that included one about whether internment camps, such as those used to imprison Japanese Americans during World War II, might arise again. …

“I completely understand the anxiety that our community is having,” says Baeza, “because I’ve lived that as a child.”

The story doesn’t say how Baeza answered the question about internment camps, but if he did anything but dismiss such talk as campaign hyperbole, he was doing his audience — and his officers — a disservice. It is worth noting that Baeza is the commanding officer of Hollenbeck Division on L.A.’s east side, where violent crime is up 27 percent this year (PDF) and 59 percent over two years. Some significant portion of that crime is committed by illegal immigrants, and the law-abiding members of the community, legal residents or otherwise, would well be rid of them.

Though ignored by the Times, a majority of LAPD officers would support the effort to see these criminals deported and prevented from returning.

In 2015, CNN reported that there were 73,665 inmates in state and federal prisons who were not U.S. citizens, and that 121 people released from immigration custody between 2010 and 2014 were later charged with murder. No one is arguing for a mass deportation of all 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants presently in the country, and no cop I know would endorse such a plan if it were proposed.

But what is the argument against deporting convicted criminals and incarcerating those who return after being deported? Perhaps Kate Steinle’s family would have something to say about that.