Community-police trust bill promotes public safety
by Nelly Garcia and Flora Archuleta
Police officials say building community trust is a critical factor in successful local policing. But what if trust is not in place?
Cities and neighborhoods are safest when residents and police officers work together. Neighbors willing to report round-the-clock activity nearby enables police to stop child abuse and domestic violence. A person might be able to prevent a violent crime if she feels comfortable calling the police. These issues of public safety are solved or prevented only if trust exists between community members and law enforcement.
While officers rely on community members to report suspicious activity and serious crimes, some immigrants do not report due to fear that local police are instead acting as federal immigration enforcement agents. While immigrant witnesses and victims want to communicate with police, many are reluctant to do so because they are afraid of being separated from their families.
The Colorado legislature is debating House Bill 1258, the Community and Law Enforcement Trust Act, which would remove the requirement under current law that local police must report suspected undocumented immigrants to federal immigration enforcement. Doing so will send a powerful signal to immigrant communities and international tourists that it's "safe" to talk to law enforcement. The proposal will also remove this burden on Colorado's police officers and sheriff's deputies so they can focus resources on public safety priorities that are most important for their own communities.
The act will make Colorado communities safer by:
• Restoring trust between immigrant communities and local public safety agencies, allowing them to work together in keeping communities safe.
• Re-establishing the role of the federal government as the responsible party for immigration enforcement, while balancing the needs of local agencies responsible for safeguarding the public.
• Easing the financial burden on Colorado's public safety agencies that are currently forced to spend an enormous amount of time, energy and resources playing the role of federal immigration authorities.
A speeding ticket led to ICE detention and deportation proceedings for Norma Morones in 2011. Later released, she remained fearful of local police because they seemed to be the same as federal immigration agents. When a 10-year-old neighbor appeared at her front door bleeding and confiding abuse by her mother, Norma was initially too afraid to report the incident. After several months, Norma built up the courage to protect the young girl by calling the Denver Police Department.
We — and Norma — support the Trust Act so our immigrant neighbors will feel safe to collaborate with police. Communities, safety groups, victim advocates and organizations like the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Rights for All People, and El Comité de Longmont support this effort.
Colorado's police officers and sheriff's deputies are eager to get out of the immigration enforcement business in order to focus on what's really important: protecting and serving the public. They do not want to be in the position of having to guess the immigration status of people based on nothing more than skin color and language skills. The County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police have both endorsed this bill.
Local governments believe HB 1258 is the right way forward, as well. The Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Inc. are advocating for the bill so cities and counties can allocate their limited financial and human resources to local public safety priorities, not federal immigration issues.
The Community and Law Enforcement Trust Act will restore needed trust with our community members so law enforcement officers can best preserve and protect public safety. We urge the Colorado Senate to pass the bill as soon as possible.
Nelly Garcia is a member of the Hispanic Affairs Project in Grand Junction. Flora Archuleta is executive director of the San Luis Valley Immigrant Resource Center. Both serve on the board of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
From the White House
President Obama: Requiring Background Checks for Anyone Who Wants to Buy a Gun is Common Sense
by Megan Slack
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Denver Police Academy in Denver, Colo., April 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Today in Colorado, President Obama asked the American people to continue calling on Congress to vote on a set of common-sense proposals to help reduce gun violence, including closing loopholes in the background check system to keep guns out of the hands criminals and others who should not have access to them.
Since the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut prompted a national call for action just over 100 days ago, gun violence has killed more than 2,000 Americans. “Every day that we wait to do something about it, even more of our fellow citizens are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun,” President Obama said today.
Colorado – a state that's experienced two of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history – has already taken action to prevent future violence. State officials worked together to enact tougher background checks that help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people without infringing on the rights of responsible gun owners.
“There doesn't have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights,” President Obama said. “Colorado has shown that practical progress is possible.”
In the 20 years since it was first established, the national background check system has already kept more than 2 million dangerous people from buying a gun. But loopholes currently in the law let too many criminals avoid background checks entirely, President Obama said.
Closing those loopholes by requiring background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun is one of the proposals President Obama put forward in January to help reduce gun violence. And as soon as next week, the Senate will get to vote on the matter.
Now, understand, nobody is talking about creating an entirely new system. We are simply talking about plugging holes, sealing a porous system that isn't working as well as it should. If you want to buy a gun, whether it's from a licensed dealer or a private seller, you should at least have to pass a background check to show you're not a criminal or someone legally prohibited from buying one. And that's just common sense.
Right now, 90 percent of Americans support background checks that will keep criminals and people who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from buying a gun.
And that's what members of Congress need to hear from you. Right now, members of Congress are at home in their districts. Many of them are holding events where they can hear from their constituents. So I'm asking anyone out there who is listening today, find out where your member of Congress stands on these issues. If they're not part of the 90 percent of Americans who agree on background checks, then ask them why not. Why wouldn't you want to make it more difficult for a dangerous criminal to get his or her hands on a gun?
“If these reforms can keep one person from murdering dozens of innocent children, or worshippers, or moviegoers, in the span of minutes – isn't that something worth fighting for?” President Obama asked. “I believe it is. That's why I'm going to keep on working. I'm going to keep on giving it my best efforts. But I'm going to need your help.”