L.A. police union backs changes to policy on asking gang members about legal status

The president of the group says a councilman’s plan to amend Special Order 40 is ‘a common-sense approach.’

By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 19, 2008

The union representing rank-and-file Los Angeles police officers Friday announced its support for a controversial campaign to make it easier for officers to question gang members about whether they are in the country legally.

Last week, City Councilman Dennis Zine introduced a motion that would require Los Angeles Police Department officers to check the immigration status of a gang member suspected of being in the country illegally — even if the suspect is not under arrest.

The proposal quickly came under fire from Police Chief William J. Bratton, who said it was tantamount to “racial profiling.” He staunchly defended the department’s long-standing policy on when officers can inquire about a person’s immigration status — called Special Order 40 — and rejected the notion that it is too restrictive.

Now, Tim Sands, president of the Police Protective League, has sided with Zine, calling the councilman’s idea “a common-sense approach.”

The union “felt strongly that this is another tool that our officers could use to take violent people off the street and put them away,” Sands said.

The union has no plans for a media campaign to support Zine’s proposal. Union representatives are expected to attend an upcoming meeting of the City Council’s public safety committee, when the issue will be discussed, and to voice support for the proposal as it winds it way through the council’s legislative process.

The back and forth over the immigration policy is the latest in a string of issues in which Bratton and the union have clashed publicly. Known for having a cooperative working relationship, the two sides have been at odds recently over a financial disclosure policy for officers and reforms to the department’s SWAT unit.

Sands dismissed the idea that relations between the union and department had soured, saying, “The majority of the time we are going to agree, and sometimes we are just going to have to agree to disagree.”

Special Order 40, nearly three decades old, is designed to encourage illegal immigrants who are victims of crimes or witnesses to cooperate with police without fear of deportation. It bars officers from making contact with individuals for the sole purpose of determining whether they are in the country legally.

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