Friday, April 20, 2018

Knoxville Police Chief Slams Anti-Immigrant Bills amid Spotlight on Tennessee

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch says proposed legislation in the General Assembly that would require police to cooperate with federal immigration officials poses numerous problems for law enforcement.

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch
Photo by Calvin Mattheis Knoxville News-Sentinel
Rausch is the first police chief in Tennessee to respond to a survey request from Citizens Media Resource about HB2315 in the House and its companion bill SB2332 in the Senate. The educational non-profit is polling chiefs of police in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga. 

Tennessee made national news this month for a raid on a meat packing plant about 60 miles from Knoxville in East Tennessee which resulted in 97 workers being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and for the seizure in Memphis of journalist Manuel Duran after he was arrested by police while covering a "street theater" action to point out abuses in ICE detention centers. 

"I have made legislators from my area aware of my concerns," Rausch said.

Rausch cited potential "racial profiling complaints" and said the legislation would create "unreasonable and improper requirements" on local law enforcement. 

Here is the Knoxville chief's response to our survey: 

Manuel Duran reports minutes before his arrest April 3

"One challenge with the bills as written is that they could potentially create racial profiling complaints by forcing local officers to ask about status. Local officers have no reason or need to inquire about status unless it is during arrest.  Then, it really is not a necessary question as it will be determined in the jail.  

"Currently, the only authority to enforce status is with the Federal Government.  When a person commits a criminal offense they are generally arrested, depending on the level of the offense.  The jail then has to determine who they are and that is where their status will be discovered.  The notification to Federal Authorities is then made.  

"The bills would set unreasonable and improper requirements on local law enforcement.  Another challenge is the bills create a complaint system that is unreasonable and unnecessary.  For example, if a resident calls in that a house next door is harboring undocumented persons and they demand a police response.  We will advise them that unless a crime is or has been committed then we will not respond as we have no authority to do anything about status of an individual.  

"They then can call their legislator and have an investigation opened on the agency, since we did not respond and they could claim we are a 'sanctuary city,' which we are not.  We cooperate with Federal Authorities by apprehending anyone that has an outstanding Immigration warrant on file and make notifications to them.  An investigation into not responding to the scenario given is a waste of resources.  
Memphis Organized Crime Unit officer waves off our camera
as police roughly arrest citizens dramatizing ICE abuses
                                          --Photo by Moore Media Images

"There is nothing a local law enforcement agency can do in this case of a neighbor making that call.  

"Lastly, Tennessee passed a law in 2009 that made it illegal to be a 'Sanctuary City,' so there is no need for this legislation.  It creates unnecessary confusion and extra work that is not necessary."

Knoxville is one of two Tennessee cities -- Memphis being the other -- that has a citizen police oversight board. Unlike Memphis' Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, Knoxville's Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) has autonomous authority to issue subpoena's. PARC and police administration have reported citizen complaints have declined during the board's existence. Rausch said he had reached out to legislators in Knox County to express his opposition. 

The House Finance, Ways and Means committee has the bill on its calendar for Monday, April 23. The bill was on their agenda Wednesday, but the committee did not get around to it.

"The schedule is kind of crazy right now. So, the clerk's office is doing the best they can," said an aide to Rep. Charles Sargent (Brentwood), committee chairman and one of the bill's sponsors. 

HB2315 has 68 sponsors in the House and nine sponsors for its counterpart, SB2332, in the Senate. Of the 22 members of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, 14 have signed on as sponsors. 

The caption for HB2315: Immigration - As introduced, prohibits state and local governmental entities and officials from adopting sanctuary policies; authorizes Tennessee residents and members of the general assembly to submit complaints to the attorney general; provides that violations subject entities to ineligibility of state moneys; requires law enforcement agencies to enter into memorandums of agreement with federal officials concerning enforcement of federal immigration laws. - Amends TCA Title 4; Title 7; Title 8; Title 9; Title 38; Title 39 and Title 40. 

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