Three out-of-state police chiefs, including former Mesa Chief George Gascón, blasted Arizona’s immigration bill during a forum Wednesday with Gascón arguing it will have “catastrophic impact.”
Gascón, who left Mesa last August to become chief of police in San Francisco, was joined by Colorado Springs, Colo, Police Chief Richard Myers and Raleigh, N.C. Police Chief Harry Dolan in speaking out against the bill, which is being considered by Gov. Jan Brewer.
The hot-button issue, Senate Bill 1070, would allow police officers to arrest those they believe are in this country illegally. The bill is raising concerns by some in law enforcement because it is unfunded and may lead to racial profiling. It also allows individuals to sue local police departments if they believe they were wrongly targeted or arrested.
Brewer has until Saturday to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without her signature. If she does, it would give Arizona one of the nation’s toughest laws targeting illegal immigration.
The forum, which included a conference call with media members, was moderated by retired Sacramento, Calif. Police Chief Arturo Venegas Jr., now the executive director of Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative, which opposes the bill. According to its web site, the group is intended as a platform for law enforcement professionals to add their expertise to the dialogue about common-sense immigration reform.
Gascón, Myers and Dolan all said they would oppose Arizona’s bill if it were proposed in their states. They said it would promote racial profiling, erode trust between local policing and immigrant communities and take time away from investigating more serious crimes when the federal government should be addressing the issue.
“This unfunded mandate will strain underfunded police departments and increase their liability,” Gascón said. “It will have a catastrophic effect on policing and set back community policing efforts for decades. The law has a tendency for enforcement efforts to focus on the appearance of people, and the reality is that it will occur.”
Gascón said he witnessed how police departments throughout Arizona are struggling to provide basic services. Such a mandate, he said, would be “problematic” during a time when departments are trying to focus on serious crimes and criminal behavior.
People also may be hesitant to report crimes, fearing they too could be targeted for living in the country illegally, Gascón said.
It’s unclear if the warnings by the chiefs will sway opinions. A majority of police unions in the East Valley favor Arizona’s bill. And a recent poll suggests it has strong support among the public, as well.
A newly released telephone survey shows 70 percent of 500 people polled in Arizona support the legislation.
The poll, released Wednesday, was conducted last week by Rasmussen Reports, a New Jersey-based public opinion polling firm that routinely keeps tabs on voter sentiment in a variety of political races and issues around the country.
Of those surveyed, 23 percent said they opposed the bill, and 6 percent said they were unsure.
The Arizona Police Association, which represents 18 Valley law-enforcement associations and about 9,000 sworn officers, supports the measure.
The Mesa Police Association, which represents 600 officers, is neutral on the bill. The Tempe Officers Association, Chandler Law Enforcement Association and the Gilbert Police Leadership Association are among the unions that support the bill. The Fraternal Order of Police Mesa’s Lodge No. 9 opposes it.
Myers, the chief in Colorado Springs, believes if Brewer approves the immigration bill, a similar one could be passed in Colorado and other states. Ohio is considering a bill similar to Arizona’s.
“It’s a very troubling bill,” Myers said. “It’s wrong to racially profile. We try to profile human behavior. I will not accept that this is the responsibility of local police departments. Right now, Arizona is ground zero with the extreme challenges of immigration and the absence of federal resources necessary to do the job, but my state is connected to Arizona.
Dolan, the chief in North Carolina, called on the federal government to provide more leadership and resources for the bill.
“We’re not getting the leadership we absolutely need from Washington,” Dolan said.