Three Los Angeles officials have signed a letter asking US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop introducing themselves as police. They argue that doing so undermines the trust built between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.
A letter from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Council President Herb Wesson requested that ICE cease calling themselves police when interacting with the public to prevent alienating undocumented immigrants from the LAPD.
Inspired by a Los Angeles Times article discussing ICE officers who refer to themselves as “police” to get people to open their doors or talk to them, the letter says: “The LAPD manual states that participation by undocumented residents in police activities serves to ‘increase the Department’s ability to protect and serve the entire community.’”
The letter argues that ensuring undocumented immigrants feel comfortable reporting crime to police officers is integral to public safety, because it encourages “witnesses and victims of crime to come forward, irrespective of their immigration status.”
LAPD policy dating back to the 1970s forbids officers from contacting individuals to learn about their immigration status.
The letter continued: “When ICE agents targeting immigrants identify themselves only as ‘police’ officers, they undermine decades of this work, eroding public safety in our city.”
However, ICE encourages the method in their manuals, the LA Times reported. A statement from an ICE spokeswoman refused to comment on the semantic controversy, arguing only that their tactics “are consistent with their authorities under federal law and in accordance with the Constitution.”
She also explained that agents “initially identify themselves as ‘police’ during an encounter because it is the universally recognized term for law enforcement and our personnel routinely interact with individuals from around the world” and referred to it as a “life-or-death issue.”
City Attorney Feuer explained to the Times that it is not about the legality of the practice, but rather the long-term effects that are the real issue.
“At this point, this is a request grounded on the public safety implications of misrepresentation as police,” Feuer said.