Racial profiling will not be tolerated in Gila County when Arizona’s new immigration law goes into effect July 29, the county’s sheriff said Thursday.
Sheriff John Armer said all patrol officers will be trained on the new law using the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board video training course, set to be released by the end of June.
AzPOST released a five-page curriculum for the video May 19, which will tackle how 15,000 state officers can implement the new law– without violating civil rights.
Although the state will distribute the video throughout the state’s law enforcement agencies, officers do not have to watch the video.
However, Armer said he would require all 56 officers in Gila County to view the electronic training course. Payson Police Department Chief Don Engler said he also would mandate the training in Payson.
“I think the more training you have, the better officer you have at the back end,” Armer said.
The new law, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in April, requires officers to arrest a person if they cannot verify their U.S. citizenship following a stop for some other cause.
A driver’s license or state-issued identification card would be enough to prove citizenship.
Armer said the new law would not change much in Gila County, where officers apprehended 300 to 400 illegal immigrants last year during routine stops.
The number of illegal immigrants apprehended will remain the same because officers do not and will not go out looking for them, Armer said.
Armer, who sits on the AzPOST board, said he is helping develop the new training videos, which will feature retired law enforcement personnel and state experts explaining what constitutes reasonable suspicion and the obligation of officers to prevent racial profiling during stops.
Critics of the bill have argued it will be impossible to avoid racial profiling, especially of Hispanics.
“I think the argument that this bill would lead to racial profiling is unfounded,” Armer said.
Each law enforcement agency must prevent profiling and discipline officers accordingly, he said.
Armer said he supports the new bill and all the attention it has brought to the issue of illegal immigration.
“The real benefit that the bill has done is bring attention to the real problem, which is our broken borders,” he said. “Our borders have got to be secured.”
Earlier this week, President Obama ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, a sign Armer said that the federal government “is stepping up.”
“I kind of suspect (sending the troops) was in reaction to Senate Bill 1070,” he said. “I hope more action follows to secure our borders.”
Armer said he would like to see a workable guest workers program and a path to legalization established for those who want to become citizens.
“We have got to have an avenue for citizenship,” he said, however, “not all immigrants that come to this country want to pursue citizenship.”
The new law limits officers from stopping people just to check their immigration status. If, during the course of a lawful stop, an officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the person is unlawfully in the U.S., then the officer can question their immigration status.
What would arouse “reasonable suspicion,” if not race, critics ask?
Armer cited things like lack of a driver’s license or knowledge of the English language.
“Not only brown-skin people are illegal immigrants,” he said. “ You have to look at every situation individually. It all comes down to good police work, and officers with the skills to figure out what might lead to an illegal presence.”
During routine traffic stops last year, Gila County sheriff’s deputies sent 300 to 400 illegal immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When an officer apprehends an illegal immigrant, they are brought to jail where they are held until ICE arrives, 90 minutes to 4 hours later. So far, this has not burdened Gila County’s already overcrowded jails.
“The only thing that will affect the jail population is if ICE decides to make us hold them for 24 hours,” Armer said.
Armer said it has never been a policy in Gila County to stop someone based on race or to check citizenship. When an officer pulls a vehicle over for probable cause, however, and a dozen people who do not speak English and have no IDs are crammed inside, “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out,” he said.
Armer acknowledged officers could find themselves in trouble if they pull people over without sufficient reason.
“It is a well established fact in law that if you cannot determine probable cause for a stop initially, everything that follows is not going to wash.”
The Payson Police Department said once AzPOST releases the curriculum, it would review it and make sure every officer goes through the training and enforces the law.
Chief Don Engler said although the department does not keep track of the number of illegal immigrants that commit crimes in the area, he knows the percentage is small. Officers normally come across illegal immigrants during routine traffic stops. Like the sheriff’s office, police officers call ICE when they apprehend an illegal immigrant.
Seeking out illegal immigrants, “is not something we actually pursue,” Engler said.