Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
In my nearly two decades as a police officer, I’ve taken hundreds of people into custody. But never have I done so to explore the arrestee’s immigration status. In practicing good tactics, the most important task for any officer when arresting someone is to secure the handcuffs quickly and safely to ensure a smooth transport to jail with minimal drama. Politics never enters the process.
As to immigration status, I think that’s an issue for the jail staff to assess and investigate further, as they deem appropriate. We have a duty to make a concerted effort to positively identify an arrestee whose ID is questionable or bad, inform jail intake staff of the problem and memorialize it all in our report. The judicial system handles it from there, weighing the severity of the charges, and prioritizing local and federal charges.
While the city where I work, Sacramento, has several different nicknames, the most notable label of late is “sanctuary city.” I have a fair understanding of what that means: City employees (i.e., the cops) won’t help federal immigration authorities detain people who have illegally entered our country. You won’t hear any complaint from me, as I think that responsibility is better addressed with the intake deputy at the jail. And frankly, when we are out there on the job, the political underpinnings of our sanctuary city status are well beyond what is important to staying alive.
The overwhelming majority of our membership includes officers who work in cities and counties that are proud to call themselves sanctuary cities, but we also have members from communities that would never consider joining the sanctuary club. As far as PORAC is concerned, whether our members hail from sanctuary cities or not is irrelevant. Be it the City of Trees or the City of Roses, we stand alongside every peace officer.
But the rules of engagement are changing. The early weeks of 2017 were filled with media reports about California authorities, from the governor to legislative leaders and mayors across the state, announcing that they would stand up and challenge immigration policy directives issued by our new president. It’s one thing for elected officials to rattle their sabers and announce in the strongest possible terms their opposition to federal policies they find offensive. But managing the consequences of that opposition is another matter. As California politicians line up to defy the new administration on immigration policy, I think they would be wise to prepare for the fallout, which comes with a hefty price tag.
The White House has threatened to cut federal funding for sanctuary communities. Assuming the president can deliver on this promise, California municipal general funds that pay for public safety could be severely impacted. Consider San Francisco, where the annual budget runs about $9.6 billion. More than 10% of that money (about $1 billion) comes from the federal government.
Sanctuary communities have received significant media attention this year, but the cuts under consideration by Washington go well beyond immigration policy. The White House is interested in lowering the national debt, and it’s looking to reduce funding at numerous federal agencies. Many of the proposed cuts involve the arts, humanities, international trade, civil rights and entities such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But also on the list are public safety organizations, including the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS.
Numerous California cities rely on COPS dollars to help fund programs and hire officers. Last year, the San Bernardino P.D. received $2.85 million for community outreach from COPS. Eleven officers were included in the grant. The Visalia P.D. was awarded $125,000 for a school resource officer. The Oakland P.D. had 15 officers covered by an award of $1.85 million for community outreach. In all, 82 California peace officers were covered by newly awarded COPS grants in 2016 — and that’s not counting money from previous years.
California communities have various policies for absorbing grants that assist with hiring peace officers. Some treat the money as a temporary windfall and carve out ongoing dollars in their general funds to maintain their personnel. But these grants are not eternal. When the federal money is gone, some awardees scramble to replace grant funds with permanent dollars, or face losing officers. While the grants distributed by COPS do provide much-needed assistance to communities with general fund shortfalls, they must be considered temporary solutions. It cannot be the federal government’s burden to fund public safety in our communities; that is local government’s obligation.
As we prepare to embark this month on one of our advocacy trips to Washington, D.C., you can rest assured that PORAC won’t shy away from controversy when it comes to representing our membership. A key to our success in the nation’s capital has been our ability to work with all political perspectives to find common ground. Whether it is expressing our outrage over an offensive painting hanging under the dome or demonstrating the need for enforcement funding, we will always stay true to the critical mission of supporting nearly 70,000 men and women who keep us safe.
Thank you for your membership. Have fun and stay safe!