By Eric Siddall
A prosecutor’s job is to seek justice for all people who are victims of crime, whatever their legal status in this country. To accomplish this goal, there needs to be cooperation from victims and witnesses, willing to both initially tell the police what they observed and then willing to testify in court. However, people will not cooperate when they believe there is a personal downside for aiding law enforcement. Sometimes it is because there is a threat of retaliation from a criminal or their associates. In the cases of those who are in the country in violation of immigration laws, it may be the fear of deportation.
In 1979, in recognition of this reality, LAPD adopted, Special Order 40, to “provide courteous and professional service to any person in Los Angeles while taking positive enforcement action against all individuals who commit criminal offenses, whether they are citizens, permanent legal residents or undocumented aliens…. Police services will be readily available to all persons, including the undocumented alien, to ensure a safe and tranquil environment.”
This policy of not using local and state law enforcement to question people about immigration status is not about political correctness. It is about the effective administration of justice. There is no question that we should cooperate with the deportation of criminals once they have completed their sentence here in the United States. However, if undocumented residents feel they cannot go to the police without fear of deportation, then they will not report crime. This part of our community will become a natural target for criminal street gangs and human traffickers, confident that those they prey on will stay silent for fear that cooperation will be a quick ticket to deportation.
Those of us charged with enforcing the laws of California should be worried about the rhetoric that is now coming from Washington. The specter of using federal power to compel local law enforcement to act as agents of the federal government will hamper the ability to prosecute criminals and provide justice for crime victims. It is heartening to see that our state leaders, including Governor Brown, and local leaders, such as Mayor Garcetti, understand the need to stand against this misguided policy. They are defending a policy that has served California well for the past 38 years.
We will only be safe when all members of our community feel invested and know they can trust law enforcement. This is because cases are built on information gathered on the street. They are built upon witnesses reporting to officers. They are built upon gaining cooperation from people who have legitimate fear of gang retaliation. Cases are won and justice is served when a witness-because of trust and faith in law enforcement-steps into that witness box and, in probably one of the more courageous and selfless acts, explains to a jury what happened on the night a stranger was murder by a ruthless gang member.
Only if local law enforcement remains focused on our jobs-enforcing state and local laws-can we ensure we will have a community ready and willing to step forward and help us make, and prove our cases.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.