OP-ED: The Baltimore County Council will vote tonight on legislation that would have the county voluntarily assume the responsibilities and the costs of jail immigration screening.
Introduced by Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell and cosponsored by his fellow Republicans on the Council, Wade Kach and David Marks, bill No. 32-17 would require the County to join a federal program known as 287(g) by entering into a formal written agreement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deputize corrections staff, adding to their duties the functions of federal immigration agents under the supervision of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Bill No. 32-17 also stipulates that the County “allocate sufficient funds, including personnel and other necessary resources, in order to implement the program.” *
The proposed Baltimore County Bill No. 32-17, adding 287(g) duties to the Department of Corrections, should be withdrawn by its sponsors, or defeated in a vote of the entire Council, or vetoed as County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has said he will do.
In the past, the federal 287(g) “Detainer” program has not focused on serious criminals, has harmed the relationship between police and local communities, and has been costly for localities. This legislation goes against the County’s best interests, especially public safety.
Baltimore County’s commitments to the Constitution, to the protection of individual rights and due process, and the promotion of sound policing practices for the benefit of our brave law enforcement staff, as well as those they are sworn to serve, have been underscored by County Executive Kamenetz. Individuals with criminal records or judicial warrants are already treated as all citizens would hope: legally detained, or transferred to the appropriate authorities, as required by law.
The proposed bill to deputize County corrections employees as federal immigration enforcement officers does not enhance public safety. It is, in fact, deleterious to public safety by undermining the trust and cooperation of the community:
The Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), a group of police chiefs from the 64 largest police departments in the United States and Canada, found that “without assurances that contact with the police would not result in purely civil immigration enforcement action, the hard-won trust, communication and cooperation from the immigrant community would disappear.”
Councilman Crandell says “(The bill) is common sense public safety,” but public safety depends on the cooperation of the community – including immigrants, most of whom are here legally – in solving all sorts of crimes and in the maintenance of public order.
Councilman Crandell says, “The costs are minimal, and ICE pays for all training and equipment.” While ICE is supposed to cover the cost of training deputized officers, Baltimore County would have to pay the majority of costs associated with a 287(g) program including travel, housing, and per diem for officers during training; as well as the ongoing costs of salaries, overtime, supplies, and other administrative and personnel costs.
The ICE budget is inadequately funded to meet the deportation goals set by the administration of President Trump; they are unlikely to reimburse Baltimore County more than the minimum. The proposed program would also be burdensome in terms of the legal exposure (suits regarding 287(g) programs have been filed in courts around the country) and the additional costs the County could expect to incur if it were required to defend the program in a court of law, or at the collective bargaining table.
Other jurisdictions do not agree that their share of 287(g) program costs were “minimal”:
A report by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the first year of operating the 287(g) program in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina., cost a total of $5.3 million. Meanwhile, the first full year of operation in the state’s Alamance County cost $4.8 million.
A study by the Brookings Institute found that Prince William County, Virginia, had to raise property taxes and take money from its “rainy day” fund to implement its 287(g) program. The report found the program cost $6.4 million in its first year and would cost $26 million over five years. To cut costs, the county slashed $3.1 million from its budget—money that was intended to buy video cameras for police cars to protect against allegations of racial profiling.
Before DHS revoked its 287(g) agreement with Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office created a $1.3 million deficit in just three months, much of it due to overtime.
Clearly, the cosponsors have numerous reasons to reconsider and withdraw Bill 32-17 if they choose.
Before further Council deliberation and their June 5, 2017 vote, they must consider the impacts and total costs of their proposed legislation including: the unreimbursed cost burden to the Corrections Department, which has already exceeded its personnel and operating budgets this year; the legal exposure and Law Office costs that are likely to result; and the impact on public safety that depends on all of us to come forward with critical information about crime, that we “Say something if we see something” as we have been asked to do since 9/11.
How do the sponsors propose to pay for this questionable program while maintaining a balanced budget? What services or public safety measures will they tell their constituents they choose to replace with the costly and unnecessary 287(g) requirements? Why would the County agree to assume the cost and implementation of a problematic voluntary Federal program? How can law enforcement at all levels count on cooperation from the community when “due process” can be abrogated for any of us?
–Peta N. Richkus
Retired, a resident of District 5, Towson, for more than 10 years