Watertown Police Release Policy for Dealing with People’s Immigration Status

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On Wednesday, the Watertown Police Department released its written policy for how it deals with immigration status during routine police business, as well as more serious incidents. 

The policy mirrors what Police Chief Michael Lawn spoke about during the Unity Breakfast in January, when he said he does not plan to have his department seek out people’s immigration status. He believes this makes the town safer because people will not be scared to seek help or assist police because the are undocumented immigrants.

Immigration Debate

Enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws has become a discussion from the national level all the way down to the local level since the Trump Administration began efforts to change the way they are enforced with a goal of removing illegal immigrants.

This has lead some governments and community members, including Watertown, to discuss whether the town should be come a Sanctuary Community. The Trump Administration has threatened to remove federal funding from communities protecting undocumented immigrants, though some have argued this would not be Constitutional.

Locally, some have argued that the fact that the Watertown Police Department had – until Wednesday – an unwritten policy to not inquire about people’s immigration status means that the step to becoming a Sanctuary City or Town is unnecessary. On May 31, the Watertown Police Department put its official Immigration Status policy into place.

Highlights of the Policy

The “Purpose and Scope” of the policy spells out the message that Lawn conveyed in January, emphasizing that having the trust of everyone in town is important to safety of all. The policy reads:

“Assistance from the many various immigrant communities is especially important when an immigrant, whether documented or not, is the victim or witness to a serious crime including, but not limited to, domestic violence. It is absolutely essential that victims do not feel apprehensive or intimidated in any way in coming forward with the requisite information and general firsthand knowledge to aid in investigating a particular crime and holding those responsible accountable to our criminal justice system. This type of essential mutual trust and spirit of cooperation is absolutely crucial in deterring crime, preventing and solving crime incidents, as well as maintaining public order, safety and security in the entire community.”

The policy also states that immigration enforcement is “the primary responsibility of the federal government, not the Watertown Police Department. Accordingly, the Watertown Police Department shall not undertake immigration-related investigations and shall not routinely inquire into the specific immigration status of any person(s) encountered during normal police operations.”

Illegal immigrants will not automatically be reported to Federal authorities when arrested, but they will be informed when a person is arrested on more serious crimes, including: Murder, Assault with intent to Murder, Assault & Battery by means of a Dangerous Weapon, Assault by means of a Dangerous Weapon, Armed Burglary, Rape, (or any Sex Offense), Mayhem, or Armed Robbery. Other times would be:

When police have reliable information that the person has been convicted of a violent felony

If the person is arrested for any terrorism-related offense

If the person in custody is arrested for trafficking people or involved in organized efforts to bring undocumented foreigners into the country or trafficking

If there is probable cause to suspect that an individual is participating in criminal street gang activity involving violence and/or distribution of illegal drugs/weapons, and

If the person is arrested on a criminal warrant from the Massachusetts Warrant Management System (WMS)

Another section of the policy deals with when Watertown Police will assist federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency personnel. Generally, they will not do so for non-criminal offenses. Part of the policy reads:

“Any detention by a member of the Watertown Police Department during the request for assistance by ICE should be based upon a reasonable belief that the detained individual is either involved in criminal activity other than a civil violation of federal immigration laws or is wanted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on a WMS Active Warrant.”

WPD officers will assist ICE agents in certain circumstances, including if it is for their “officer’s safety” or if the person is also wanted under a criminal warrant in the state’s warrant system.

In instances when immigration enforcement contacts the Watertown Police about taking someone into federal custody, WPD will ask the “reason” for the arrest an will assist if it is a criminal or state warrant, but not if it is for civil reason (but will help if there is concern for an officer’s safety and there is a call for emergency assistance).

Full Text of the Policy

The following is the complete text of the Watertown Police Department’s Immigration Status, Chapter 1I:

The Watertown Police Department recognizes and values the diversity of the community it serves. Many of its residents have emigrated to this community from other countries and some may not be citizens or legal residents of the United States. The Town and the Watertown Police Department are committed to promoting safety and providing proactive community policing services to all who live, work or visit our community. In furtherance of the adherence to the department’s community policing philosophy, all community members and general stakeholders should know that they are encouraged to seek and obtain police assistance and protection regardless of their specific immigration and/or documentation status without fear of status checks.

The Watertown Police Department relies upon the cooperation of all persons located in the Town of Watertown including citizens, legal residents as well as those without a specific documentation status, to achieve our important goals of protecting life and property, investigating and preventing crime as well as resolving recurring neighborhood issues. Assistance from the many various immigrant communities is especially important when an immigrant, whether documented or not, is the victim or witness to a serious crime including, but not limited to, domestic violence. It is absolutely essential that victims do not feel apprehensive or intimidated in any way in coming forward with the requisite information and general firsthand knowledge to aid in investigating a particular crime and holding those responsible accountable to our criminal justice system. This type of essential mutual trust and spirit of cooperation is absolutely crucial in deterring crime, preventing and solving crime incidents, as well as maintaining public order, safety and security in the entire community.

We fully realize that federal civil immigration enforcement or perceived enforcement by the Watertown Police Department could have a “chilling effect” in our local immigrant community and could limit cooperation with police by members of the community at large. As stated, we depend on the cooperation of all of our residents and stakeholders including immigrants, legal and undocumented, in solving all sorts of crimes and in the maintenance of public order. Without assurances that they will not be subjected to an immigration investigation and possible deportation, many immigrants with critical information would not come forward, even when heinous crimes are committed against them and/or their families. Because many families with undocumented family members also include legal immigrant members, this would drive a potential wedge between the Watertown Police and large portions of the legal immigrant community as well.

We as duly sworn police officers are responsible for providing effective police services to everyone in the Town of Watertown in an equal, fair, and just manner. The Watertown Police Department is concerned primarily for the safety and welfare of all individuals found within the territorial jurisdiction of the Town of Watertown. Thus, detection of criminal behavior is of primary interest and concern in dealing with any individual suspected of violating the law. Race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, occupation, immigration status or any other arbitrary characteristic pertaining to any specific individual have absolutely no bearing on any decision for a Watertown Police Officer to effectuate a stop, investigation or detention of an individual or have any impact whatsoever on the decision to make a lawful arrest for a violation of a criminal law.

The specific immigration status (or lack thereof) of an individual or group of individuals in and of itself, is not and shall not be a matter of local police concern or subsequent enforcement action by the WPD unless there exists through reliable and credible information a potential threat to public safety and/or national security. It is incumbent upon all officers and employees of the Watertown Police Department to make an unyielding personal commitment to equal enforcement of the law and equal service to the public regardless of immigration-documentation status. Confidence in this valued commitment will not only protect an individual’s rights and freedoms from being adversely affected but shall also increase the public’s confidence in the police department’s effectiveness and efficiency in protecting and serving the members of the entire Town of Watertown community.

II. POLICY

The enforcement of the nation’s federal civil immigration laws is the primary responsibility of the federal government, not the Watertown Police Department. Accordingly, the Watertown Police Department shall not undertake immigration-related investigations and shall not routinely inquire into the specific immigration status of any person(s) encountered during normal police operations. Exceptions may be made under Section IV (C) below. Further, the Watertown Police Department shall not enter into any voluntary Federal 287(g) Program that would have local officers trained and sworn to enforce federal civil immigration laws.

This prohibition does not preclude the Watertown Police Department from cooperating and assisting with federal immigration officials from the DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency when formally requested as part of an on-going criminal investigation, or from notifying those federal officials in serious situations where a potential threat to public safety or national security is perceived. [See §§ III (C), (D) below].

Nothing in this Policy shall prohibit or restrain any Watertown law enforcement officer from sending to, or receiving from, any local, state, or federal agency, information regarding citizenship or immigration status, consistent with 8 U.S.C. § 1373 or an order from a court of competent jurisdiction.

III. PROCEDURE

A. Immigration Detainer – Notice of Action

1. Whenever any Officer in Charge (OIC) or Administrative Officer of the Watertown Police Department receives either an Immigration Detainer (Form I-247 – issued 12/12) in the form of a fax from DHS-ICE, the OIC shall immediately inform the bailing Clerk or Assistant Clerk Magistrate of the existence of the Federal ICE Detainer when they respond to police department to make the decision of setting bail on those currently in custody.

2. It shall be decision of the bailing Clerk of Court to decide whether to set a monetary bail, release on personal recognizance or order that the arrestee be held in police custody via the Immigration Detainer until court is next in session.

3. The OIC shall ensure that the following procedures occur when an Immigration Detainer is received:

a) Add the “Immigration Detainer” charge to the arrest report

b) Make a copy of the detainer for the court prosecutor

c) Staple the original copy to the police report for Records filing

d) Notify the Bail Clerk of the Detainer

e) Adhere to the Consular Notification Policy if the arrestee is from one of the listed nations.

4. Although the issuance of a Detainer by ICE is not a criminal charge, add the ‘Description” above under charges to accurately track each Detainer that is received.

5. If a decision is made to bail the arrestee DHS-ICE: Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) shall be notified by the OIC.

6. The arrestee SHALL always be afforded a copy of the applicable ICE Immigration Detainer Form.

7. A copy of the ICE Detainer Form shall be placed in the arrestee’s arrest folder.

8. Federal law provides that the individual cannot be held on a Detainer for longer than 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays. At the end of the 48 hour period, the Detainer shall expire forthwith.

B. Inquiries into Immigration Status:

1. A person’s right to file a police report; participate in any police-community activities; or otherwise benefit from general police services shall not be contingent upon the individual providing proof of citizenship or any type of documented immigration status.

2. Consequently, officers shall not question any person about his or her specific citizenship or immigration status unless that person is reasonably believed to be involved in one or more of the activities identified in Subsection IV (C) below.

3. Officers shall not request passports, visas, resident alien cards (i.e., “green cards”), or travel documents in lieu of, or in addition to, driver’s licenses and other standard forms of identification.

Such documents shall only be requested when standard forms of identification are unavailable or when the officer is proceeding under Subsection IV (C) below. An exception could occur if an operator of a lawfully stopped motor vehicle presents what appears to be a valid Foreign Country’s Driver’s License in which the license is valid in this state for only one (1) year and requires the operator to produce proof to the investigating officer of the most recent admission date to the United States so as to effectively toll the one year time period. (e.g., Form I-94 or Passport with the entry stamp).

C. Notification to Federal Immigration Authorities:

In furtherance of the department’s community policing philosophy and continued engagement and outreach efforts, Watertown Police Officers shall not participate in any federal civil immigration related investigations of any immigrant or foreign national, except when the immigrant or foreign national:

1. is arrested for any violent felony by WPD Personnel including but not limited to:

a) Murder,

b) Assault with intent to Murder,

c) Assault & Battery by means of a Dangerous Weapon,

d) Assault by means of a Dangerous Weapon,

e) Armed Burglary,

f) Rape, (or any Sex Offense)

g) Mayhem, or

h) Armed Robbery;

2. When the WPD acquires reliable information that the individual in Watertown Police custody has been convicted in a court of competent jurisdiction of any violent felony;

3. is arrested by WPD Personnel for any terrorism-related offense, or is otherwise reasonably suspected of involvement in any terrorist and/or subversive activities. The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) shall also be contacted forthwith;

4. is arrested for any offense involving the entry or fraudulent assimilation or trafficking of individuals into the United States, or is reasonably suspected of participating in an organized venture to bring or fraudulently assimilate undocumented foreigners in this country; OR

5. There is probable cause to suspect that an individual is participating in criminal street gang activity involving violence and/or distribution of illegal drugs/weapons.

6. Is arrested on a criminal warrant from the Massachusetts Warrant Management System (WMS).

D. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Investigations and/or Requests for Assistance:

1. The U.S. Bureau of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has primary jurisdiction for enforcement of the provisions to Title 8, U.S. Code dealing with illegal entry into the United States by foreign nationals.

2. Watertown Police Officers shall not directly participate in any such ICE tactical operation(s) solely for the civil enforcement of federal immigration laws as part of any Detention or Arrest Team unless:

a. it is in direct response to a request for immediate assistance on a temporary basis for “Officer Safety” purposes; or

b. for the assistance in the apprehension of any individual who is also wanted on a Massachusetts issued Warrant Management System Criminal Warrant (WMS) which remains in full force and effect at the time of the request.

3. Whenever ICE has occasion to be in the Town of Watertown, whether looking for a target(s) who is the subject of a criminal warrant (usually the criminal investigatory side of ICE -Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) or looking for individuals who have Final Orders of Deportation (Civil side –Enforcement & Removal Operations-ERO) the OIC shall send out a Command Staff message regarding the incident.

a) In addition, the OIC shall ascertain from the notifying ICE Agent or Supervisory Agent who called the OIC – pursuant to national de-confliction protocol to alert the presence in the town at a specific address – the specific “reason” that they are looking to place the wanted individual into federal custody.

b) If it is for a Massachusetts Criminal Warrant or other State Warrant (Fugitives from Justice) for which we as duly sworn Watertown Police Officers have the right of arrest, then we may assist.

c) If it is for civil reasons only then we shall stand down and not respond and only assist if a situation rises where an officer’s (Agent’s) safety is at risk where there is an emergency call for assistance.

d) In all cases the OIC shall ensure that a call number is generated on the Dispatch Log by Communications (e.g., Immigration Enforcement).

e) The ICE Agent shall be asked to call back the OIC with the results of the investigation (e.g., no service, one in custody, etc.) so that the Dispatch Log can be updated.

f) For those individuals placed in custody by ICE Officials for solely for civil enforcement reasons a courtesy booking shall not be required.

4. Any detention by a member of the Watertown Police Department during the request for assistance by ICE should be based upon a reasonable belief that the detained individual is either involved in criminal activity other than a civil violation of federal immigration laws or is wanted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on a WMS Active Warrant.

One thought on “Watertown Police Release Policy for Dealing with People’s Immigration Status

  1. I don’t understand how this is supposed to make illegal immigrants feel safer about calling the police. This policy is so complicated and has so many exceptions, you would need a lawyer to decipher it.

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