Phoenix police chief explains department's new immigration policy

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'The Phoenix Police Department ... [is] committed to protecting and serving every member of our diverse community ...,' Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams says on the department's website. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) 'The Phoenix Police Department ... [is] committed to protecting and serving every member of our diverse community ...,' Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams says on the department's website. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

The Phoenix Police Department implemented a new immigration policy starting just after midnight Monday morning.

The new policy has even undergone a name change, from immigration “enforcement” to immigration “procedures.”

The changes in the policy stem from recommendations made by an ad hoc committee convened by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton earlier in the year and approved by the full Phoenix City Council in April.

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams admits politics played a part in the policy changes but she said she prefers to focus on her goal regarding the changes as they pertain to perception.

“I have to have the responsibility that the people we are protecting and serving feel confident in calling us, are not fearful of calling us," she said. "And we had some components in that policy, in my personal opinion, that created that dynamic.”

That is particularly pertinent, said Williams, as it relates to the addition of a section dealing specifically with school resource officers.

According to the new section, “SROs or any other officers must not ask immigration questions or contact ICE for any purposes while on school grounds.”

Williams said her officers were not enforcing immigration laws and the department had not received any complaints suggesting they were, but she had heard anecdotal stories from students concerned about going to a campus police office for fear either they or their parents might be deported.

“There was this assumption that when you ask someone a question about identification, some people in the community equated identification with you asking immigration status. So, we just kind of removed that dynamic out of the equation,” said Williams.

The head of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association said he believes the new policy is 100-percent politically motivated.

 “It’s really dangerous when you start letting politicians and select activist groups dictate and determine the direction of police policy and enforcement procedures," Ken Crane, the president of the organization, said. "That’s what’s going to start getting people hurt out there. And it’s dangerous when you cater to select groups to satisfy a political agenda. That’s clearly what’s going on here.”

Crane also said the old policy was working fine, and he, too, reiterated that the department had not been accused of biased policing, racial profiling or, in particular, SROs enforcing immigration laws.

“Our SROs have not been engaging in immigration enforcement in schools," Crane said. "So, most of them, if you interviewed them would say, 'It’s really not going to change how I do business.'”

The Phoenix Police Department respects the dignity of all persons and recognizes the sanctity of human life, rights and liberty. We are committed to protecting and serving every member of our diverse community and ensuring that crime victims and witnesses feel comfortable and confident when reporting crimes to our officers. As your chief, I commit to you that racial profiling will not be tolerated.  We will continue to ensure everyone's safety by continuing our crime suppression efforts and focusing on crimes that most affect our local community. As always, we will be guided by state law which dictates our responsibilities when dealing with arrested people.

Williams agrees. While the policy in written form looks, feels and reads very differently from the old policy, Williams said the interaction the community will have with Phoenix police officers will not change. The policy will just reassure the entire community that they will be treated with respect and dignity. 

Under the new policy, Phoenix police officers will still verify the immigration status of all people arrested.

The new policy also identifies a single point of contact for all immigration inquiries. Williams said this will improve data collection, record keeping and allow for the department to know exactly how many times Phoenix police have contacted or turned over arrestees to federal authorities.

[PDF: Read the entire policy]

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Donna RossiEmmy Award-winning reporter Donna Rossi joined CBS 5 News in September 1994.

Click to learn more about Donna.

Donna Rossi

In that time, Donna has covered some of the most high-profile stories in the Valley and across the state. Donna's experience as a four-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department gives her a keen sense of crime and court stories. She offered gavel to gavel coverage of the 1999 sleepwalking murder trial of Scott Falater, and the trial and conviction of retired Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien for a fatal hit and run accident. She also spent 2 straight weeks in northeastern Arizona in the summer of 2011 covering the Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history.

Donna's reputation as a fair and accurate journalist has earned her the respect of her colleagues and community. Her talent as a reporter has earned her more than a dozen Arizona Associated Press Awards and five Emmy statue.

Donna previously worked as an anchor and reporter in Tucson and got her start in broadcast journalism in Flagstaff. Donna is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and currently serves on the NATAS board. She is a member of IFP/Phoenix, a non-profit organization of local film and documentary makers.

Donna was born in New York and moved to the Valley with her family when she was 9 years old. She is a graduate of Maryvale High School and attended Arizona State University. She graduated cum laude from Northern Arizona University.

In her free time, Donna enjoys boating on Bartlett Lake, all forms of music and theatre. Donna frequently donates her time to speak to community organizations and emcee their events. She is a past board member of DUET, a non-profit which helps promote health and well-being for older adults. Donna also loves donating her time to youth organizations and groups who work to secure and safeguard human rights.

On Oct. 17, 2015, Donna was honored for her amazing work over the years. The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Academy of Televisions Arts and Sciences inducted her into its Silver Circle. It's one of the organization's most prestigious honors for which only a few candidates are selected each year.

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