Board begins work on immigration training for Arizona officers - East Valley Tribune: Immigration

Board begins work on immigration training for Arizona officers

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Posted: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 12:51 pm

A special board approved plans Wednesday to train police officers on how they can and cannot enforce new laws aimed at illegal immigrants but left unresolved for now a key element: what provides police the "reasonable suspicion" they need to question people.

Members of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board ratified plans to create a video of perhaps 60 to 90 minutes explaining the key elements of SB 1070. Its key provision requires police, as part of any stop, detention or arrest, to check someone's immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" the person is not in this country legally.

Board Executive Director Lyle Mann stressed that officers watching the video will be told they cannot engage in "racial profiling" or even consider someone's race, ethnicity or national origin. But he sidestepped questions of exactly how officers would develop the necessary reasonable suspicion without considering those factors

"Race is not an (indicator) of criminality," he said, saying the fact that there are so many Latinos in Arizona is a reason why that cannot be a factor. The criteria, he said, are still being determined.

What are likely to be factors, though, are whether the person is particularly nervous, whether answers are evasive and even how someone is dressed, according to Hipolito Acosta. He is a former Immigration and Naturalization Service officer who now is a consultant. He has been retained by AzPOST to help spell out for officers when they can feel free, after someone is stopped for some other reason, to question further.

Acosta told Capitol Media Services the bottom line is that officers will have to be able to articulate specific reasons for inquiring, reasons that under Arizona law cannot include race.

The push ahead with a training plan comes even though Mann conceded that nothing in the law - or even the executive order by Gov. Jan Brewer to create the video - actually requires that officers watch it or show they understand it before they are allowed to go out and enforce the new law when it takes effect July 29.

That phrase "reasonable suspicion" has raised concerns among some that it leaves too much discretion for officers. That, in turn, was at least part of the reason Brewer specifically directed AzPOST to come up with a training program for police.

That's where Acosta and his 30 years of experience comes in. He outlined for Capitol Media Services what an officer who has pulled over a vehicle for some other reason is likely to consider.

"There's some type of action on the individual where they try to avoid eye contact with an officer or they are very nervous or refuse to acknowledge an officer that's there" when under normal circumstances the occupants of a vehicle "would have nothing to be nervous about," he said.

Acosta said that probably everyone gets nervous when stopped by police, no matter what that person's race. But he said officers will notice conduct or demeanor that appears out of the ordinary.

How someone is dressed also fits into that.

"They're wearing clothing that appears that they have been traveling," Acosta explained. "The clothing might not really be used in that particular area."

Having foreign-branded clothes also would be an indicator, he said, though not by itself given international trade. But he said an officer might also notice that clothing is being carried in a plastic bag, leading to a conclusion the person is not in this country legally.

And the visible presence of foreign passports or documents also would provide a piece of the puzzle.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, a key proponent of the legislation, said his own experience as a police detective in New York looking for drugs leads him to believe the concept is not as difficult as it sounds.

"We had a whole list of reasonable suspicion criteria that were quite effective," he said. "But the last thing I would do is put it on camera so every possible drug courier would know what to look for. And the same is true here."

He said, though, people should not be worried they will be targeted for questioning based on their appearance.

"There is no illegal look," Kavanagh said. "Short of running away from a federal detention center in an orange jump suit, there is nothing about a person's appearance that would lead anybody to suspect, much less know, that you're illegal."

Pressed further, Kavanagh said appearance can matter.

"Obviously, if you see somebody dressed in a manner that they look like they just spent three days trekking across the desert, and you're near the border, that might be one factor that might let you approach ‘reasonable suspicion,'" he said.

The unresolved aspects of the training weren't a concern to Bryan Soller, president of Fraternal Order of Police's Mesa Lodge No. 9. Police are already trained on reasonable suspicion and how to avoid racial profiling, Soller said.

"I don't think our officers are going to do that," Soller said.

A larger concern for him is that only a small number of officers have training from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, through a program called 287(g). The training allows local police to enforce some aspects of federal immigration law. Soller said the instruction would help officers know what kinds of identification cards are legitimate or potentially forged.

"Most officers don't have that," he said. "That's the biggest training we need."

Other than Acosta, Mann has lined up 11 others to appear on the training video to discuss various aspects of the law.

That includes two retired Phoenix police officers who represent the Arizona Police Association and who lobbied in favor of the law. According to the outline approved Wednesday, they will "present the issue from their perspective" on the training video.

What it does not include is anyone from Hispanic community groups or civil rights organizations which might have a different perspective on the law and what issues to which officers should be sensitive.

"The issue that I'm charged with has to do with training the officers," Mann responded, saying he is "sympathetic" to how Latinos see the law. Mann said he believes the training will address those concerns without the need for participation in the video by members of the minority community.

And he defended using the two officers, saying they were being included not because they lobbied for the bill, but because they are veterans.

Tribune reporter Garin Groff contributed to this story.


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