MDJ: What differences will we see with this new law?
Houser: We have had discretionary powers in the past to inquire with federal agencies on immigration status, so if we would run a person in a database and get an immigration hold, the officers did have the discretionary power to either call or have our 911 Center call those agencies, (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) or whoever the hold is with, to get a determination from them on the status of the hold and any direction on what they would like us to do with that person. …
In (House Bill 87), they’re saying in a case where there’s probable cause where a person has committed a crime and if they don’t have identification as described within that bill, then the officer has the discretion to do certain things.
Q: You already had that power?
A: We had, and House Bill 87 defines in this particular situation when an officer can use that discretionary authority. … One of the things that House Bill 87 does do is it specifically tells law enforcement that on the occasion when a person is either reporting a crime, the witness of a crime or the victim of a crime, an immigration investigation at that point is inappropriate. In the past, law enforcement agencies, there was nothing telling law enforcement that if somebody was a victim or the witness of a crime and came forward, the law enforcement agency could look at their immigration status — even though in the Cobb County Police Department, our focus would be on that crime, not particularly somebody’s legal status. …
We want people to know this bill provides some protection from those that are either witnessing, reporting, or are the victim of a crime, and that is one of the major differences here that we see in this bill.
Q: Say I’m an illegal alien and you stop me for speeding. What’s the protocol? When would you ask about my immigration status? Or would you?
A: We would not. You would have to not have any identification (for that question).
Q: But even legal residents are required to have a driver’s license?
A: Your driving is a privilege, so the law says you have to have your driver’s license with you. We do know people drive without a licenses. So as we would with anybody, we’re going to run Jon Gillooly to make sure he is authorized to be driving that car. In a case where we ran Jon Gillooly and he came back where there was an immigration hold, that’s where we would make an inquiry, and it would strictly be an inquiry to whoever has placed that hold.
Q: What is an immigration hold?
A: There may be an ICE hold on somebody. Our officer is not going to come up and ask Jon Gillooly about his immigration status. It would typically be when a person is run in a certain database — you might have a warrant against you, a bench warrant for whatever. Let’s say there’s a bench warrant against you for failure to pay your child support and you didn’t go to court. Whether it’s that case or an immigration warrant, whoever the law enforcement entity that’s put that hold out there, we will make a follow-up inquiry. You could have a felony warrant on you for burglary in another county in this state, but that county might say we’re not going to extradite. On an immigration hold, it may say ‘yes, there is a hold on Jon Gillooly,’ but it would be somebody giving us direction. Typically we’re not making an arrest strictly on a hold on an immigration issue.
If you don’t have a driver’s license and you’re driving down I-75, we might arrest you and make a custodial arrest because you’re driving without a license. The custodial arrest is made. You’re turned over to the Sheriff, and whatever protocols they have in place that is when they follow their procedures. They’re the ones that are working hand-in-hand with ICE, and we’re out there in the field just doing our thing, whether it’s traffic enforcement or responding to 911 calls … It’s only those situations where there is probable cause that you’ve committed a crime and then we’re going to run you to make sure there is no other holds or warrants, and that’s when it becomes an immigration issue if there is a hold.
Q: How is the Cobb Police Department’s relationship with the Cobb Latino community? Is it a good one?
A: I believe it is. I think in some cultures there is a natural distrust of law enforcement. It’s something that we have to overcome. … When laws like this are enacted, even though there may be certain things in there that are protecting them, there’s always cause for concern, so education on this is very important.
Q: Critics of HB 87 believe it will create “widespread fear” among people afraid of being profiled. Do you foresee it causing fear in the Latino community?
A: I don’t think it will particularly in Cobb County. I understand how a certain element of the community when a bill comes out like this that talks about discretionary authority to law enforcement to conduct immigration investigations, that in itself can cause a certain amount of fear. … We need to let them know under what circumstances we would do this, and I think we need to ensure that the public knows there is an element in this bill that didn’t exist before that exempts law enforcement from conducting immigration investigations when someone is victimized or reporting a crime or witnessing a crime.
So I will tell you that typically as far as the Cobb County Police Department in matters like this, and this bill specifically says when you have probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime, typically our interest is in the investigation of that crime at hand, and if there is a custodial arrest, generally we make the arrest based on that situation, and if there is any follow-up on any immigration issues, that is left up to the Sheriff’s Department within their 287(g) program.
Typically when a Cobb County police officer is involved in any kind of follow-up on an immigration issue, it’s based on some sort of database that is returning to us telling us there is a warrant on a particular individual. Any time that we find that there is a warrant, whether it be an immigration warrant or a warrant for any criminal act, we’re going to follow up to see if the warrant is valid, and an immigration situation typically is contacting a federal agency to get any direction they may have of how they would like to handle this. Just because there is an immigration hit doesn’t mean we’re going to take a person in custody for that. …
We’re not out there conducting immigration investigations on the side of the road. We are dealing with someone dialing 911, the Cobb County Police Department’s coming, if there’s a crime to be investigated, we’re investigating that crime, and if we have probable cause that that person has committed a crime and has a custodial arrest, then the Sheriff has certain things in place that they do to deal with ICE issues.
Q: What do you say to the critics of the law who claim this is going to let police engage in profiling?
A: We have policies in place that strictly prohibit bias-based profiling. Those policies existed. We take them very seriously, and we will continue to enforce any violations of the policy.
Q: Do you anticipate a rise in deportations in Cobb County as a result of this new law?
A: I do not.
Q: Do you see this new law greatly impacting your operations? Why or why not?
A: I do not. … We’ve had that discretionary authority in the past. We typically don’t get involved in immigration investigations — that is done by a federal entity.
Q: So is the headline “Chief believes new law not to greatly impact Cobb police operations?”
A: It would not have a great impact on any operational manner. We will conduct training. (Capt. B.S. Batterton, academy director at the Cobb Department of Public Safety Training Center) is putting that together. We will provide information to all of our officers based on what is in the new law giving them direction specially on the issues in House Bill 87, letting them know that what this law specifically states. When they have probable cause that somebody’s committed a crime and when they don’t have as identification — and it’s defined in the law what types of identification is acceptable — then they have the discretionary power to do certain things, so all the things in the law will be spelled out to them.
It will also be spelled out to them those things that they shall not do … When somebody wants to report, is a witness of or is a victim of a crime, it is the policy of the Cobb County Police Department, we will deal with specifically the issues of that crime and not that person’s immigration status.
Q: Do you see illegal immigration as a problem for our county? Is it a challenge? Is it an issue at all?
A: The immigration issues are investigated by federal authorities. We typically don’t get involved. We work side-by-side with the federal authorities, but … we’re not primary when it comes to immigration issues. Our focus is responding to the needs of the community and particularly those individuals, it’s a concern of us if individuals either witness or are the victim of a crime that they have the comfort level to come forward and work with us so we can make this a better place to live and work.
Q: It seems you’re caught between the political left, which is complaining about profiling, and the political right, which is complaining you’re not doing enough because of political correctness. Does it feel like you’re in a straitjacket?
A: Not really. I mean, nobody ever said law enforcement was easy. We have laws that we’re required to enforce. House Bill 87 gives a certain discretionary authority for us to do certain things. So we have to balance what we do. It’s our job to maintain the quality of life in Cobb County. I think that our officers do an outstanding job of that, and any time that there’s a new law like this, you’re going to have a certain element in the community that has a concern.
Q: When will the training be completed?
A: Because this has been on-going, we already have a draft, so we’re ready to put this out. I think it will be a matter of a few days where we’ll start putting information out to our officers.