Lincoln Police Chief Casady: Immigration bill will cost too much to enforce

February 25, 2011


Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady

Story by Asha Anchan and Rachel Albin, Photo by Kyle Bruggeman

According to Lincoln’s longtime police chief, what happened in Arizona should stay in Arizona. The reason: Nebraska’s proposed immigration law is seriously flawed.

“I fail to see this as a good return on investment,” Chief Tom Casady recently wrote in a detailed, two-page letter to Lincoln’s finance director.

Casady, a Republican who has been in law enforcement since 1974, cited numerous concerns with the proposed law, including:

• An inability to identify all illegal immigrants
• Additional costs and workloads that would thin his ranks
• The unlikelihood that federal agents could deport all illegal immigrants
• A loss of police trust that could trigger more crime

“For my own tax dollar, I would prefer that we focus efforts on the deportation of aliens who have already been convicted of crimes,” Casady wrote. “I am always concerned with unfunded mandates that increase our cost of doing business without new revenue to offset these costs.”

Nebraska’s proposed immigration law—LB48—would make it a misdemeanor to be in the country illegally. When enforcing other laws, police also would need to verify the immigrant status of anyone they suspected of being here illegally. The bill, introduced by Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen, is scheduled for a March 2 public hearing.

“This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to what seems to be one of the hot topics of the day, and this certainly isn’t about racism or protectionism,” Janssen wrote on his legislative blog on Jan. 6, the day he proposed the bill. “This is about doing what’s right for the people of this state.”

The identification problem
Sen. Janssen and Chief Casady do agree on one point: Even with an immigration law, it would be a tall order to find and then deport all of Nebraska’s undocumented immigrants. In a Feb. 15 press conference, Janssen said it’s “semi-impossible to deport everybody that’s here illegally.”

He would get no argument from Casady. The police chief said it’s a myth that there is some “mammoth database into which a police officer can submit a name and determine (someone’s legal status).”

Instead, a database from the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) identifies only immigrants legally in the country and those previously cited for breaking immigration laws.

That database, Casady noted, would likely have no record of someone who simply crossed the border illegally—rendering a Nebraska immigration law ineffective.

“My guess would be that the plurality of people in the country illegally have never, ever in their entire life had their fingerprints taken,” Casady said in a recent interview. “(Checking the database) wouldn’t reveal them all. I think when you get right down to it, I’d be surprised if it’s half.”

Costs of implementation
And then there’s the issue of time and money—which at some point, Casady said, are one and the same. Specifically, police methods to investigate legal status are both complex and costly.

“Determining someone’s immigration status,” Casady wrote in his letter, “requires computer database inquiries, phone calls, electronic messaging, interviews, the review of documentary evidence, and may require other investigative steps, including such things as the collection and submission of fingerprints.”

From years of listening to the police scanner and reviewing reports, Casady estimated Lincoln Police would encounter 50 suspected illegal immigrants a month. If each required 45 minutes to evaluate, that eats up 37.5 hours—almost a full week of one officer’s time—which Casady called a conservative estimate. If LB48 became law, he also predicted most department employees, not just officers, would need two to four hours of classroom training.

“Our police department is already the smallest per capita in the State of Nebraska,” Casady wrote. “And we are failing to keep up with the population growth.”

Additionally, incarceration also eats up taxpayer dollars. The average Lancaster County inmate costs taxpayers $73 a day to imprison, said Mike Thurber, administrator of Lancaster County Corrections. And costs vary from inmate to inmate for medical charges.

“I have paid tens of thousands of dollars from our budget to provide surgery and post-surgical care to individual drunk drivers, domestic violence offenders and even defendants who have feloniously assaulted our police officers,” Casady wrote. “It may be maddening but it is also mandated by Nebraska law.”

And more arrests put police at greater risk for complaints and/or lawsuits. Specifically, Casady wrote that LB48 would put officers at a heightened risk because it detains individuals “based on reasonable suspicion pertaining to the subjects’ immigration status, rather than probable cause to believe that he or she has committed a crime.”

Casady wrote he is “not looking forward” to defending and paying tax dollars for the increased liability to his officers.

Lack of resources
Casady’s detailed letter not only raised the question of enforcement costs, but “what we accomplish in exchange for these costs.”

For example, no matter how many people LPD can confirm are illegal immigrants, the federal government has limited resources to deport them and is the only agency authorized to remove immigrants.

In 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed a record 392,862 illegal immigrants nationwide—including 5,925 in Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota. It is estimated that at least 11 million illegal immigrants are now in the United States, including more than 40,000 in Nebraska.

In September ICE Director John Morton said his agency can afford to deport just under 400,000 people annually. He also said he would prefer they not be “the first 400,000 people in the door,” but rather people who have also committed serious crimes.

Said Casady: “I fear that for many of the defendants arrested by my officers, we would simply be incurring these costs only to have the defendant walk out of jail after satisfying their local charges with little or no further action” by the federal government.

Broken relationships
Casady’s final concern was a cost not measured in dollars—but in trust. He said the stigma of LB48 could create a fear of police, inhibiting people from reporting crimes or cooperating with investigations, thus driving key sources and snitches underground.

But Janssen viewed this aspect of his immigration bill differently

“I guess informants a lot of times are people that break the law, running in that element,” he said. “Let’s face it, we got rid of people who are breaking the law, so there’s less need for informants.”

Casady disagreed. What would happen—he mused—if someone got dropped off at an emergency room with a bullet wound and not even the victim would talk? The crime would be unsolvable if everyone feared police questioning their immigration status.

And wider police distrust could set the stage for more gangs, Casady said.

To implement LB48, police training would include measures to prevent racial profiling and maintain relationships with minority communities, Casady said. The department has long forged ties in minority community centers and churches, through which police project a message of trust and respect.

If LB48 becomes law, Casady’s department obviously would enforce it. But the police chief wrote the cautionary letter on the bill’s pitfalls to shed light on his law enforcement concerns, based on more than 30 years of experience.

“What do we get for our investment (in enforcing LB48)?” Casady asked. “I’m a little bit concerned that we may not get what some people think we’re getting.”

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