Summit County police and immigrant rights group meet
Continuing to improve communication between law enforcement and the Latino community was the topic of a panel discussion on Saturday, Oct. 24 at the inaugural Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) assembly held in Silverthorne.
Law enforcement representatives included Breckenridge Police Chief Shannon Haynes, Dillon Police Chief Mark Heminghous and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. Also on the panel were activists from the Latino community, including Veronica Rosas, with Unidos por la Igualdad (United for Equality), and Nicole Bernal and Estrella Ruiz, from the Hispanic Affairs Project of Western Colorado.
Pelle said his agency has improved relations with the Latino and immigrant community significantly in the last two years.
“We worked our way, painfully, through a lot of legislative efforts,” he said.
In April 2013, Colorado passed the Community and Law Enforcement Trust Act, which repealed 2006 Colorado SB 90. Passed in 2006, SB 90, referred to as “show me your papers” legislation, the bill required police to report anyone suspected of being an undocumented immigrant to U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The 2013 trust act had broad-based support from the County Sheriff’s of Colorado, The Colorado Association of Police Chiefs, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and the Colorado Municipal League.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last few years, especially with getting SB 90 overturned,” Pelle said.
To thunderous applause, he told the packed room that ICE detainers are no longer honored in Colorado counties.
In the past, Pelle explained that if ICE had an interest in someone detained in his jail, they would simply arrive and ask to speak to the party in question. In many cases suspected undocumented immigrants were simply handed a phone or lead to an interview room without being told they were meeting custom officials.
“We’re making sure no one’s duped or tricked into talking to ICE agents,” he said. “It’s voluntary and people should be advised they don’t have to talk to ICE.”
He stressed that police will no longer question a person’s citizenship or residency.
“People need to trust the police to call them for help,” he said. “If people are afraid to call police, because of their immigration status, it makes our job difficult.”
All the law enforcement officials said they feel their agencies’ relationships with the immigrant population are improving.
“We’ve had good fortune to have relationship building with people in Summit County,” Haynes said.
Relationships built on mutual trust and respect are long lasting, Pelle opined.
“I’ve made friends I think will last long beyond my career,” he said.
As sheriff, Pelle said he has a responsibility to his constituency, while those elected in more conservative counties may have a different perspective.
“We’re not all together,” he said. “We seek acceptance and a middle ground.”
When asked what ICE’s response to recent policy changes regarding immigration, Pelle said it’s been quiet.
“We’re in between responsibilities they (ICE) have and responsibilities to our community,” he said.
Heminghous said the Dillon police would work with outside agencies when the situation demands.
“I don’t really have a good relationship with federal agencies,” he said. “In my 20-plus years of law enforcement, they haven’t been of much assistance to me.”
In some instances the cooperation is automatic, Pelle said. For example, when people are arrested and fingerprintedby the FBI and ICE that data is electronically shared with both federal agencies.
“You’re information will end up in the hands of the federal government,” he said.
Also arrest records are public information, so ICE cannot be denied if they make a request.
This year the Latino Citizens Police Academy was formed, by the Unidos por la Igualdad group, with support from CIRC.
“I came from Connecticut to Colorado and we didn’t have the same relationship with different demographic groups,” Haynes said. “Once we started citizens police academy the community support was amazing.”
The participants were truly supportive of law enforcement and the conversation felt like a two-way street, Haynes said. Also they broke bread together and law enforcement was welcomed into the community.
“People don’t (normally) make dinner for the police,” she joked. “When we need outreach or a helping hand we can count on those folks.”
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