The Florida Senate is finishing up its work for today and won’t be meeting over the weekend, as was recently threatened by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. That means lawmakers will have until next week to figure out what will happen with its immigration-enforcement measure.

Haridopolos has suggested he’s interested in adding tougher provisions, including some that would bring the measure more in line with the House’s more-Arizona-like bill, but several members of the Hispanic caucus have already expressed opposition to the House approach — and reservations about the Senate’s. It’s not clear what changes will be made under the bill’s new carrier, budget chief J.D. Alexander.

Meanwhile, a former Miami police chief has joined the opponents to the bill, writing a letter to lawmakers and warning that the measures could undermine trust between police and immigrant communities, making it harder to solve crimes.

The letter was released today by the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center and the ACLU:

April 29, 2011
Members of the Florida Legislature:

I have served as a law enforcement professional for 41 years of my life, most of that timeas a law enforcement executive. I most recently served the City of Miami as Police Chief forseven years (from 2003 – 2010). Prior to that, I served as Commissioner of the PhiladelphiaPolice Department from 1998 – 2002, and prior to that in a number of positions with the NewYork City Police Department, including as First Deputy Commissioner.

It has been my experience (and that of many other police professionals) that maintainingthe trust of immigrants is essential to protecting the public, solving crimes and keeping the peace.

I am very concerned about the potential impact that two bills (HB 7089 and SB 2040) could have on the effectiveness of local police and public safety, particularly in the many areasof Florida that now have significant immigrant populations.

For example, in the city of Miami in 2003, police would have had a tougher time solving the case and removing the infamous Shenandoah serial rapist from the streets of Miami without tips and information from immigrants in the community.

Without such trust, immigrants, regardless of status, will not cooperate with police orreport even serious crimes, like armed robbery or domestic violence. Legal immigrants will notcooperate with the police if they fear that they, or their relatives or friends will be deported. Thiswould lead to greater crime and degrades the quality of life for the broader community.

If passed, these bills would undermine the trust that many local police chiefs haveestablished with the immigrant communities in their cities over the years. A recent PoliceExecutive Research Forum (PERF) report well states: “Active involvement in immigrationenforcement can complicate local law enforcement agencies’ efforts to fulfill their primarymissions of investigating and preventing crime.” [Debra A. Hoffmaster, Police and Immigration: How Chiefs Are Leading their Communities through theChallenges. Police Executive Research Forum, Washington, D.C. March 2011. Officers should be prohibited from arresting or detaining persons for the sole purpose ofinvestigating their immigration status.]

This concern is shared, as the report notes, by most police chiefs who “recognize thatmuch is at stake, including the willingness of a crime victim to report the crime, the willingnessof a witness to step forward and provide information, and the continued support of thecommunity.” The report concludes with the chiefs’ recommendations, among them:

Officers should arrest persons who violate the criminal laws of their jurisdictions withoutregard to the immigration status of the alleged perpetrator or the victim.

Local police must uphold the Constitutional and civil rights of persons regardless of theirimmigration status.

Local police must protect crime victims and witnesses regardless of their immigrationstatus, and should encourage all victims and witnesses to report crimes, regardless oftheir immigration status.

I ask you to consider the public safety issues at stake for communities throughoutFlorida. The proposed legislation will drive a dangerous wedge between law enforcement andimmigrants in Florida that will make the job of our police officers to protect the public moredifficult.

The proposed legislation threatens public safety. I ask you to reject HB 7089 and SB 2040.

John F. TimoneyFormer Police Chief, City of Miami

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