Training video defines 'reasonable suspicion' of illegal status - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Training video defines 'reasonable suspicion' of illegal status

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Posted: Thursday, July 1, 2010 1:13 pm | Updated: 7:54 pm, Fri Jul 2, 2010.

Police officers got their first access Thursday to information about exactly what it takes for them to question people they stop about their immigration status.

A video lesson released by the Arizona Police Officers Standards and Training Board spells out what officers should look for in determining whether there is “reasonable suspicion” to believe someone is in this country illegally. That is the mandate on officers in SB 1070, set to take effect July 29.

And Beverly Ginn, an attorney who provides the legal elements of the law, stresses in the video that race, national origin or ethnicity cannot be used as a factor in making that determination.

But it remains to be seen whether the video and training materials do anything to alleviate concerns that the law will lead to racial profiling.

Jon O’Neill, spokesman for the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, pointed out the training video is voluntary.

“There is no guarantee that any officer who would be enforcing SB 1070 will see it,’’ he said. O’Neill said his organization won’t comment beyond that because what’s in the video is likely to become part of the legal challenge the ACLU already has filed to the law.

A hearing on that challenge is set for July 22.

Separately, the video informs officers when they don’t need to inquire, even if they have that suspicion. That is based on language in the law that requires questioning only when “reasonably practicable.”

And Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor, who appears in the video, said he is instructing his officers to use their judgment in deciding whether there is something more important that they should be doing.

Gov. Jan Brewer directed the board to produce the training materials the day she signed SB 1070. The governor said that should go a long way toward alleviating concerns that the measure will be implemented in an unfair way.

Of prime concern is the requirement that says police who stop, detain or arrest someone must inquire about their immigration status if they reasonably suspect the person is an illegal immigrant. That has led to questions of whether, by definition, police will be looking for people who look like foreigners, particularly Hispanics.

“The reality is that the ethnic mix of our community is such that race tell you nothing about whether or not a person is unlawfully in the United States,’’ Ginn said, saying the same is true of ethnicity.

Ginn said the best course for officers to follow is to ask for identification in the circumstances that they would otherwise make such a request. She said if individuals have one of the acceptable forms of ID, including an Arizona driver’s license, tribal ID card or other document that requires proof of legal presence in the country to get, “that’s the end of your inquiry.’’

It’s what happens when someone doesn’t have acceptable identification where it gets trickier — and where police have to look at factors to determine whether there’s reasonable suspicion someone is an illegal immigrant. Ginn said officers can consider a host of other factors, including flight or preparation for flight, engaging in evasive maneuvers, an inability to provide a home address or having a foreign vehicle registration.

Location also is a factor, she said, with police allowed to consider that the person is in an area where illegal immigrants regularly gather and look for work.

And Ginn said how the person is dressed also can be a factor.

While she did not explain further, Hippolito Acosta, a former federal immigration officer who is now a consultant, said there are things that an officer can consider just based on the person’s appearance, especially if it is inconsistent with weather conditions.

“If anyone appears to be wearing multiple layers of clothing or long-sleeved shirts in a hot climate, this might be an indication of their recent arrival in the area,” Acosta said.

Ginn also said that significant difficulty in expressing oneself in English also can be considered. Acosta said, though, officers must be careful.

“A lack of English-speaking ability is not a singular factor that should be used to determine illegal presence in the United States,” he said. But Acosta said that, combined with other factors, can be an “articulable fact” an officer can use to determine whether reasonable suspicion exists that a person is not in the country legally.

While SB 1070 requires police to question those they have stopped in certain circumstances, there also is the escape clause of “reasonably practicable.’’

“What I would want my officers to think about is the call load, the level of violation they’re dealing with, the number of calls holding, the time of day, the day of the week,” Villasenor said. And he suggested he would not be second-guessing his officers.

“I do have confidence they will make the proper decision that, in their judgment, is this really the most important thing for them to do,” Villasenor said.

Brian Livingston, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, said officers need to use their discretion. That includes their obligations to investigate other higher-priority crimes.

To see the training video, go to



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