Even Police Rebel Against Race/Ethnic Based Laws

Posted on April 12, 2011


I wrote recently of efforts of police across the US to resist S-Comm, a federal program in which municipal and county police share biometric data with ICE. Such programs may have seemed a good idea as pitched by the Department of Justice, but have turned out to be a serious impediment to law enforcement. San Francisco County Sheriff, Mike Hennessy, recently made public a letter of inquiry to the DOJ asking for a firm explanation of “opt out” rules for the program–which are apparently not as straight forward or tenable as initially presented by the DOJ.

S-Comm exposes all undocumented people involved in a crime–from the victims to suspects–to possible deportation. For those who are documented, but who have family or friends who are undocumented, the risk of deportation of loved ones is also great. The bottom line is that turning the police into a de facto immigration force will have incredible impact on the ability of police to investigate crimes, and has the potential to create “anything goes” neighborhoods in high immigrant populations, where crime will be rampant for fear of reporting to the police. In short, S-Comm in its very essence is completely antithetical to policing diverse communities.

It’s interesting that police officials in France are having a very similar initial reaction to the Niqab [Islamic Face Covering] Ban, which began today. As the NYT reports [France Enforces Ban on Full Face Veils in Public, Apr 11, A-4], police union leaders have already reacted with antagonism to the law:

“The law will be infinitely difficult to enforce, and will be infinitely rarely enforced,” Manuel Roux, a union leader for local police chiefs, told France Inter radio.

Patrice Ribeiro, general secretary of Synergie Officiers, a police union, said the law was “a source of trouble more than anything else.” In areas with large immigrant populations, he said in an interview, the law cannot be carried out strictly: “We’ll create riots.”

What does American S-Comm have in common with French N-Ban? Both the American program and French law target disempowered minorities, and they are both the product of political considerations, not motivated by paradigms of good policing. And, because of that, they are so impossible to enforce without creating widespread systemic problems for law enforcement, that even normally apolitical police are quite vocally condemning the programs in the media in both countries. It might be well and good that the N-Ban is a response to a popular sentiment in the mainstream French public, according to polls, and, as the NYT reports, it passed the legislature with “only one vote opposed.” And likewise, S-Comm may be a reaction to the quite mainstream [and mostly baseless] public concern about rampant crime and immigration.

But popular sentiment can often be the downfall of good governance, and good local policing. And, in these two cases, that fact is so obvious that police, who often seem to be overly comfortable with procedures that marginalize people of color and immigrants, are rebelling against it!  Here’s a simple rule, governments of the world: if even the police are dissing your new laws in public, you’re doing something wrong.