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Thursday, November 8, 2007

OP-ED: Collaboration with feds hurts community policing

by Ramón Ramírez

November 8, 2007

Anyone concerned about public safety should be paying close attention to the new policy of increased collaboration between Marion County jails and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Minority community organizations have worked for years to build trust and communication between Marion County law enforcement and communities of color. Marion County civic and business leaders must resist the attempts of some who seek to vilify the Latino immigrant community at the expense of everyone's public safety.

"Community policing" is a reciprocal policing strategy in which residents and local law enforcement each assume a role in promoting the safety of their communities. The success of community policing hinges upon a relationship of trust between community residents and law enforcement officials, a relationship that is broken down when immigrants fear immigration-related consequences for approaching state or local police.

From New Jersey to Los Angeles, chiefs of police are embracing community policing as an effective strategy to combat crime. Los Angeles is now in the early stages of a potentially historic decline in crime.

Earl Paysinger, deputy to the Los Angeles Police Department police chief, recently commented to The New York Times that the decline in crime in his city could be attributed to efforts to "reach out to communities that years ago we didn't even talk to." One of the benefits, he said, is that "people are more willing to call the police."

Sheriff Russ Isham wisely adopted community policing policies when he was a sergeant in the Salem Police Department, increasing participation in the Neighborhood Watch program from 1,900 to 5,000 households and launching a Drug Activity Response Team.

If the lines between local police and immigration authorities become too blurred, undocumented immigrants don't feel safe reporting crimes, resulting in regrettable situations for everyone including unreported burglaries, violence and drug activity.

Domestic violence advocates also have cited the damaging effects of police collaboration with ICE, as victims of battering would rather endure the abuse than risk deportation. Being serious about combating the meth epidemic in Marion County especially means we should advocate for community policing that facilitates all residents' cooperation with law enforcement.

To ensure the new policy doesn't result in unintended consequences, Marion County should consider monitoring law enforcement officers to prevent racial profiling. Eight years after the New Jersey State Police acknowledged that its troopers were focusing on black and Hispanic drivers at traffic stops, federal monitors announced last month that the department had made remarkable progress in eliminating racial profiling and no longer needed federal supervision.

And on Sept. 25, a Virginia Illegal Immigration Task Force concluded that it couldn't recommend forcing police departments to enforce federal immigration law or require officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they encounter.

In order not to undermine the trust that has been built with communities of color in Marion County, we are committed to working with the sheriff to ensure that our police officers are behaving in the most professional manner towards all residents of Marion County.

Ramón Ramírez is the president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, Oregon's farmworker union. He can be contacted at


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