Just as police chiefs have suggested, the new Arizona Immigration Law (SB1070) will have an undoubtedly detrimental effect on communities’ trust in their local police force. The problem is that this erosion will not be limited to Arizona but will affect communities all over the southwestern United States.
First, an aside. Despite police chiefs opposition to the law (a topic in a Police Chiefs against SB1070 in Facebook), police officer groups have generally been in favor. This is to be expected. An analogous situation is that of troops in Afghanistan. Many first line Marines were quoted as saying that they wished the rules of engagement were not so strict during the recent offensives. Troops felt that their hands were tied with red tape. They, like the so called “beat cops”, would appreciate any new tools or freedom at their disposal because it would make their job easier.
However, the generals of the Armed Forces implemented the rules of engagement with an eye on the broader strategic goals. It would not be enough to simply rout the enemy; the local population needs to be won over too. The only way to do this was to minimize civilian casualties as much as possible. Even if it put soldiers in a more difficult or even dangerous position, any success they would have had otherwise, in terms of the bigger picture, would have been only temporary.
The same applies for the difference of opinion between police officers and their chiefs. Presumably, the same qualities that cause a soldier to advance through the ranks also propels officers to higher positions. Police chiefs must have a sense of the departments’ broader mission. Arresting criminals that the police see as being suspicious is well and good but the fact of the matter is that residents will know about many more crimes than the police do simply because the force is comprised of a limited number of people. In order to keep the community safe, police departments need the cooperation of its denizens.
This is the cooperation that is put in jeopardy by laws like Arizona’s 1070. Undocumented immigrants and their families will be afraid to come forward to report a crime or assist an investigation when police can ask them for their papers at any time.
Furthermore, police departments in cities like Pasadena (33.4% Hispanic or Latino as of the 2000 Census) already face an uphill battle when it comes to trust. Most students interviewed at local middle and high schools believed that police officers did not have their best interests in mind and, in general, felt that they were often harassed for no reason. One Pasadena City College student even claimed that police would purposely wait until a crime had already occurred in order to appear the heroes. It is not this article’s intention to lend credence to these claims. But it is important to note their existence and that they are not the exception. It shows the misscommunication and mistrust that already exists between the people and their protectors.
Where do these views of police come from for youth whose interaction with the law is, by the very nature of how it is applied to minors, minimal? According to a 2005 Gallup Poll, 71% of teens have “about the same” political views as their parents. This can be even more true for negative views. A child who’s parents do not trust the police because of their previous experiences and often discuss their views in the household is logically more likely to develop the same views without themselves having a discernible reason when questioned. That is to say, most students questioned could not come up with an example of why they do not trust the police department. These sort of views often run deeper than those acquired later in life.
Laws like those passed in Arizona will make Latino adults more suspicious to interaction with police because a family member or neighbor may be in the country illegally. They are less likely to report crimes or assist in investigations. Worse still, their children will grow up with the same mistrust of and aversion to police officers. This will inevitably turn into a lack of respect for officers and, by extension, a lack of respect for the law. Laws like SB1070 may not only decrease the community’s cooperation with the police department. In the long run, they may actually lead to more crime.
First published in The Examiner.