Conservative media have defended Arizona's controversial new immigration law by suggesting the law is necessary to fight violent crime. Phoenix police chief Jack Harris has rejected this claim, and he and many other law enforcement officials have argued that the law will distort police priorities.
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Chief Harris: Police already "have the tools that we need" to fight crime related to smuggling, kidnappings, home invasions
Harris: Not "true" that "the new law provides a tool for local law enforcement." Phoenix Public Safety Manager/Police Chief Jack Harris stated during an April 30 press conference:
HARRIS: Proponents of this legislation have repeatedly said that the new law provides a tool for local law enforcement. But I don't really believe that that's true or accurate.
We have the tools that we need to enforce laws in this state to reduce property crime and to reduce violent crime, to go after criminals that are responsible for human smuggling, to go after criminals that are responsible for those home invasions, kidnappings, robberies, murders. We have those tools.
I have ten ICE agents embedded in the violent crimes bureau. We have a policy that allows officers to contact ICE when they need to access their databanks to further criminal investigation. I'm not sure what the tool is that this new law is providing to local law enforcement.
What I believe it is, is it provides a tool to divert our officers from investigating property crimes and violent crimes and divert their -- these resources, our personnel to enforcing civil portions of federal immigration law. In other words, it takes officers away from doing what our main core mission of local law enforcement is, and that's to make our communities safe and enforce our criminal codes in that effort.
Pima County Sheriff: "We don't need this law." Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik stated in an April 7 taped interview with KGUN9-TV that the law is "unnecessary" and that he won't enforce it. He added, "We're going to keep doing what we've been doing all along. We don't need this law. We're going to stop and detain these people for the Border Patrol."
Many in law enforcement agree: New law could distort police priorities
AZ Republic: Police chiefs said officers "will have to make immigration enforcement their priority over every other type of crime." The Arizona Republic reported on April 22 that SB 1070 "requires local law-enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law to the fullest extent permitted by federal law" and "would allow Arizonans to sue agencies if they don't believe an agency is complying with the law." The article further reported:
Police chiefs who oppose the bill have said these requirements will mean officers will have to make immigration enforcement their first priority over every other type of crime.
They may have to wait around for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to verify a suspect's immigration status and possibly transport a suspect to jail to be held until that status can be determined.
The chiefs also say the bill offers no additional funding to train officers in how to judge reasonable suspicion or otherwise enforce federal laws.
"This will further impact police departments already lacking the resources to do their basic job," said former Mesa Police Chief George Gascón, who now leads the San Francisco Police Department.
Arizona Police Chiefs: SB 1070 interferes with police work. The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police stated that SB 1070 "will negatively affect the ability of law enforcement agencies across the state to fulfill their many responsibilities in a timely manner."
Yuma County Sheriff: "We don't have enough people to be doing what we're supposed to be doing anyway." Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden opposed the passage of SB 1070, citing the cost of detaining individuals and a "'12 percent reduction in force availability' for each incident, where a deputy would be tied up investigating someone's immigration status," according to a Phoenix New Times post. The post further reported that Ogden stated, "[I]f you start spending less time on property crimes and personal crimes, you don't want to do that":
"We're like everybody else," explained Ogden, who's in his fourth term as Yuma County Sheriff. "We don't have enough people to be doing what we're supposed to be doing anyway. But you have to prioritize. And if you start spending less time on property crimes and personal crimes, you don't want to do that."
Ogden was also concerned with another provision of the Pearce legislation that would grant a private right of action for a citizen to sue a law enforcement agency if that person believes that the agency is not pursuing immigration violations to "the full extent permitted by federal law."
Police union rep: SB 1070 "could eat up a lot of manpower and cost a lot of money." The (Phoenix) East Valley Tribune reported that "[p]olice unions representing the rank-and-file officers, although not opposed to the bill, believe it could create manpower challenges during a time of budget reductions and are also concerned about potential lawsuits the law could bring, according to Bryan Soller, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Mesa Lodge's No. 9, which represents 600 officers." The article further quoted Soller as saying, "If we're getting hammered with calls, is a misdemeanor (trespassing by an illegal immigrant) more important than a stabbing or shooting? No. The problem with this law is that it's an unfunded mandate and could eat up a lot of manpower and cost a lot of money."
Contrary to media narrative, crime rates in Arizona have not been on the rise
Crime rates in Arizona at lowest point in decades. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the violent crime rate in Arizona was lower in 2006, 2007, and 2008 -- the most recent year from which data are available -- than any year since 1983. The property crime rate in Arizona was lower in 2006, 2007, and 2008 than any year since 1968. In addition, in Arizona, the violent crime rate dropped from 577.9 per 100,000 population in 1998 to 447 per 100,000 population in 2008; the property crime rate dropped from 5,997 to 4,291 during the same period. During the same decade, Arizona's undocumented immigrant population grew rapidly. The Arizona Republic reported: "While the nation's illegal-immigrant population doubled from 1994 to 2004, according to federal records, the violent-crime rate declined 35 percent."
Arizona Republic: Crime rates in Arizona border towns "have remained essentially flat for the past decade." In a May 2 article, The Arizona Republic reported, "FBI Uniform Crime Reports and statistics provided by police agencies, in fact, show that the crime rates in Nogales, Douglas, Yuma and other Arizona border towns have remained essentially flat for the past decade, even as drug-related violence has spiraled out of control on the other side of the international line. Statewide, rates of violent crime also are down." The article also reported that Sheriff Dupnik "said there always has been crime associated with smuggling in southern Arizona, but today's rhetoric does not seem to jibe with reality. 'This is a media-created event,' Dupnik said. 'I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure.'"
Conservative media cite violent crime as reason why Arizona passed the law
Noonan: Arizona "is doing this" because "there have been kidnappings, murders and gang violence." From Peggy Noonan's May 1, 2010 Wall Street Journal column:
Which brings us to Arizona and its much-criticized attempt to institute a law aimed at controlling its own border with Mexico. It is doing this because the federal government won't, and because Arizonans have a crisis on their hands, areas on the border where criminal behavior flourishes, where there have been kidnappings, murders and gang violence.
O'Reilly: "The Arizona authorities say we're desperate ... Our crime problem is through the roof." From the May 4 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
BILL O'REILLY (host): --here's the problem. The left is trying to make this a racist issue, that there is -- and you wrote on "The Daily Beast" something to this sort -- that there is a drive to punish Hispanics, because they don't like the fact they're Hispanic.
I don't see that. In a few cases, yeah. But I don't see that to motivate the Arizona authorities. The Arizona authorities say we're desperate. We don't have the money. Our crime problem is through the roof. Phoenix one of the most dangerous cities in the country. We got to do something. It's not based on racism. It's based on self-protection.
Kristol: Law is "reasonable effort to deal with something that is a real problem in Arizona." From the May 2 edition of Fox News Sunday:
BILL KRISTOL (Fox News contributor): We have a federal system in this country. And conservatives believe in federalism, and the problem -- the situation in Arizona is different from Texas or Florida.
But I think Brit is right. The Arizona law is well within the bounds of a reasonable effort to deal with something that is a real problem in Arizona. Phoenix now has one of the highest kidnapping ratios -- if that's the right word -- in the world. And this has something to do with these gangs that smuggle illegal immigrants across the border, the trafficking human beings. It's a terrible situation.
And this relaxed attitude towards it, "Oh, come on, grow up. We're a big country. We're going to have tons of illegal immigrants," doesn't speak to the facts on the ground, I don't think, in Arizona.
La Jeunesse: Arizona "is staggering under the impact of human smuggling, drug trafficking and other crimes committed by foreign nationals." From the April 30 edition of Special Report:
WILLIAM LA JEUNESSE (Fox News correspondent): Like any other state, Arizona is a melting pot and proud of it. But the reality on the ground is, the state is staggering under the impact of human smuggling, drug trafficking and other crimes committed by foreign nationals who shouldn't be here.
ANDREW THOMAS, FMR MARICOPA COUNTY ATTORNEY: We believe that our laws should be enforced and that our border should be secure. And we should have some idea who's coming into our country.
LA JEUNESSE: Drop houses for illegal immigrants litter Phoenix neighborhoods. One in seven prisoners and one in five county inmates are in Arizona illegally, charged with crimes from assault and conspiracy to first degree murder. Lawmakers felt they had to act.
Wash Times: "Supporters" of AZ law "say police need more tools to combat the upswing in drug and human smuggling from Mexico." From a May 6 Washington Times article:
The Arizona law requires noncitizens to carry proof of their status, which is also a federal law. State and local police are also required to ask suspected illegal immigrants for identification during the enforcement of another law - for example, speeding or loitering.
Supporters of Arizona's immigration law say police need more tools to combat the upswing in drug and human smuggling from Mexico. Their arguments received a boost Tuesday night as Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu released more details about the April 30 shooting of a deputy by suspected Mexico-based drug dealers.
Deputy Louie Puroll was grazed by two bullets in a shootout while tracking drug smugglers in the open desert. He was ambushed by six gunmen wielding AK-47 assault rifles, all of whom are still at large, although four people deemed "investigative leads" are in custody, said Sheriff Babeu.
The shooting comes not long after the March 27 slaying of rancher Rob Krentz on his property near the Mexican border by suspected drug smugglers whose footprints led back to Mexico
"The horrendous violence we see by narco-terrorists is uncontrolled, and our own federal government refuses to fulfill its responsibility to secure our border," Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the immigration law April 23, said in response to the latest shooting.