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More Low-Level Arrests Would Erode Chicago's 'Sanctuary' Status

By Stephen Gossett in News on Feb 28, 2017 9:23PM

Civil-rights advocates have long advised against the “broken window” model of policing, arguing that it discriminates, undermines police/community relations and ultimately proves ineffective. But a potential increase in low-level stops and arrests—the kind advocated under the model—could also severely undercut so-called sanctuary cities’ ability to actually provide sanctuary to those targeted by law enforcement.

Early warnings and actions indicate that President Donald Trump’s appointees may have just a scenario in mind. In what could be a particularly telling deflection, when asked on Monday whether he’d pursue a consent decree to enforce recommendations made by the previous Justice Department to curb Chicago police misconduct, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instead invoked Chicago’s reduced arrest rate.

“I'm really worried about Chicago with the surge in murders as well as the one data — one of the metrics that has been reported in Chicago shows a dramatic reduction in stops and arrests in Chicago by the police department,” Sessions said, according to Politco. So they have the same number of officers but the number of people getting arrested for presumably smaller crimes — you know, the broken windows concept in New York … that [has] got to be a factor in the increase in violence in the city.”

Arrests in 2016 were indeed down 28 percent from the year before, according to a Sun-Times analysis. CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson defended the statistics, saying it reflected the department’s correct priorities. But it he and Mayor Rahm Emanuel will likely continue to face pressure to increase arrests and stops (Trump has also called for the return of stop-and-frisk, specifically to Chicago.) If they were to relent, it could have the tangential effect of exposing undocumented immigrants—sanctuary city or no—to federal agents, namely due to Trump’s revival of the Secure Communities deportation program.

Chicago may not “deputize” its police to act as immigration agents nor does it honor so-called detainer requests; but local law enforcement has no say in how Secure Communities shares fingerprints taken by local police with federal agencies.

As Slate notes:

“The fingerprints police collect when booking someone into custody are automatically shared with federal immigration authorities, whether that police department wants to share them or not. A fingerprint match alerts ICE that a suspected undocumented immigrant has been arrested. ICE agents can then find that person, detain them, and deport them. If ICE wants to detain someone, they can find and detain them anywhere in the United States regardless of whether local officials are cooperating.

Despite a lack of substantiation, Trump has made it clear that he believes Chicago's violent crime is related to undocumented immigrants. “You look at Chicago, and you look at other places,” Trump said earlier this month. “So many of the problems are caused by gang members, many of whom are not even legally in our country.” Coupled with the Department of Justice's demonization of recreational marijuana and Sessions' recent comments, it's hard not to see any pursuit of low-level arrests as being interrelated to immigration enforcement.

As the city seeks to negotiate a consent decree to implement recommended police reforms, it doesn't seem like a stretch to envision a call for ramped-up arrests being used as a bargaining chip by the current Justice Department. If Chicago is serious about being a sanctuary city, it should resist those easy optics.