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Guest: King County should fight crime, not enforce immigration laws
King County should let local law enforcement focus its resources on fighting crime instead of enforcing civil immigration laws, according to guest columnists John Lovick and Jim Pugel.
Special to The Times
POLICE depend on community trust and involvement to maintain public safety in King County and across the state.
As the former Snohomish County sheriff and the current interim chief of police for the largest city in King County, we both understand the integral role that community trust plays in allowing the men and women in local law enforcement to do their jobs and keep our communities safe.
This is also why we support a King County proposal that allows local law enforcement to focus its resources on fighting crime and to stay out of enforcing civil immigration laws, which are the responsibility of federal agencies and agents.
When communities don’t trust local law enforcement, it compromises the safety of all residents. Witnesses are afraid to come forward and victims are too frightened to report crime. If a community is afraid of law enforcement, the only winners are those who perpetrate crime on the innocent.
Regardless of your views on immigration, we can’t have strong, safe communities if people are afraid to report a crime. This is precisely why a clear line must be drawn between the job of local law enforcement and the job of federal immigration agents.
In King County and 38 other counties in Washington, local law enforcement agencies and local jail staff spend a large amount of time and money doing the job of federal immigration agents.
Local agencies and jails honor “hold” requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold defendants beyond a given release date. These requests happen regardless of whether the defendant poses a real public-safety threat — regardless of whether he or she has been convicted of a crime, and regardless of the impact detention and potential deportation will have on the children, families and communities in our state.
A recent study by the University of Washington indicated that defendants with immigration holds stayed an average of 29.2 days longer than other similarly situated defendants, at a cost to King County approaching $3 million annually.
Four out of five people held at the request of federal immigration enforcement agencies had never been convicted of a crime. While this research was specific to King County, these same processes and costs burden law enforcement budgets in other counties as well. We simply cannot afford to continue a policy that has such high fiscal and social costs.
Metropolitan King County Council Ordinance 2013-0285 would allow county jails to focus resources on individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes and allow the criminal justice system to function the way it was intended. For every individual booked into King County jails on criminal charges, the courts will continue to impose and oversee appropriate due process and punishment.
A policy sensibly limiting these federal hold requests would not release anyone into the community who would not otherwise be eligible for release. Inmates are only released from custody after they have served their time.
We applaud members of the Metropolitan King County Council for considering a measured and sensible approach to separating the criminal justice system and local law enforcement from federal civil immigration enforcement.
We believe the result of implementing the ordinance as countywide policy will result in safer and healthier communities where all of our families can thrive. And we hope this can serve as a model policy for other counties that strive to prioritize community safety and practice efficient budgeting.
John Lovick, left, is Snohomish County executive. Jim Pugel is interim chief of the Seattle Police Department.
Information in this article, originally published at 3:20 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2013 was corrected at 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 22, 2013. A previous headline for this story incorrectly stated that the King County Sheriff’s Office should focus on fighting crime instead of enforcing immigration laws.