In terms of the problem with response time - HPD is known not to respond quickly when called. A few months ago some young people crashed a pick-up into a telephone pole across the street from my house. It must have been stolen or taken without permission - the kids got scared and ran away. Even though the truck was crushed in the front, the engine was still running. Several people gathered around and someone gingerly opened the door (you couldn't see inside because of the tinted windows) - people were worried the driver had a heart attack or had been car jacked- the truck had no passengers, and continued to run as it stayed pasted to the telephone poll.
We first called HPD and explained the situation. We were concerned it not only could be stolen, but was also a fire hazard. The dispatcher said that there was no crisis and they would not send anyone out. We then called the Precinct 6 Constable's office (Constable Victor Trevino). Someone was out within five minutes. In this neighborhood people know to call the constable instead of HPD.
There is little resentment against HPD - everyone is aware that they are overloaded, the city is too large for such a small force. Trevino's officers take the pressure off HPD. They watch the neighborhood and consequently most of the East End Community respects them and has lots of faith in their ability to keep order around here.
Police Chief Hurtt is right in that HPD has no breathing room to expand its services. Being immigration officers would create chaos within the units and in the community.
There is also a significant problem involved in police becoming ICE enforcers. If people know they will be identified and potentially deported, why would they report a crime? But that is another story...
Jan. 31, 2008, 11:37PM
Police chief defends his immigration law stance
Hurtt says HPD won't train to help ICE enforce federal policy
By JAMES PINKERTON
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
While a growing number of police agencies across the country have received federal training to enforce immigration laws, Houston's police chief maintained a strong stance Thursday against joining this trend.
At least 28 state, county and local law enforcement departments have taken training to make immigration arrests and process illegal immigrants for deportation. More than 70 others are on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement waiting list for training.
But Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt made it clear Thursday that his department won't be taking on ICE duties any time soon. Hurtt said enforcing immigration law in Houston would tie up officers and add long delays to police response times.
"Local police don't want to be immigration officers, they want to be able to enforce (local) laws," Hurtt told a state legislative committee.
Hurtt was the lead-off witness in a Thursday morning hearing by the Texas Border Security Task Force that focused on terrorism, illegal immigration and port and border security.
The chief told the task force, chaired by Houston state Rep. Rick Noriega, that Houston is not a sanctuary city, and he cited cooperative agreements the department has with ICE and the Justice Department. ICE agents are allowed into county and city jail facilities to question non-citizens who are arrested.
As he left the hearing, Hurtt said police don't know the actual number of illegal immigrants in Houston or the Harris County area but said estimates range from 250,000 to 500,000.
"That's a major city in itself," Hurtt said. "If we had to enforce immigration laws the response time to emergency calls — which now we have around five-minute response time — could possibly go, with our present resources, go to 30 or 45 minutes. And I don't think that's acceptable to citizens of Houston." He added that the longer response time would put people at risk.
No time for training
The ICE training program is known as 287 (g) for the section of a 1996 immigration law that created it. The program has trained state police in Arizona, Alabama, Colorado, and sheriff's departments in California's Los Angeles and Orange counties and in Maricopa County, Ariz., which is similar in size to Harris County.
The number of law enforcement departments receiving the ICE training in 2007 was a fivefold increase over the previous year. Hurtt, however, said Houston can't spare the time for officers to receive the five-week training.
"If you're going to train all your officers that means they're going to be off the streets for a certain period of time for training," he said after the hearing. "Again, that's an additional burden on the city, as well as the citizens. We just think it's a federal responsibility, and we're asking them to step up to the plate."
Louise Whiteford, president of the Houston-based Texans for Immigration Reform, said Hurtt is following "the same old party line."
"It's political, it would take a stand on immigration and they would rather not address that," she said. "There would be repercussions from people about enforcing immigration law."
Whiteford said trained immigration officers could take criminal immigrants off Houston's streets, which could relieve HPD's workload.
"Some of the police have told me they'd like to have the training, and they'd be willing to pay to go get it," she said.
Houston's position is in sharp contrast to a number of cities and states that have passed laws contending with illegal immigration. In 2007, legislatures across the country introduced 1,500 immigration-related bills, and 244 became law in 46 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures' Web site.
Hurtt said police departments have few resources to spare for immigration enforcement. He said a Clinton administration program that helped fund placing 80,000 to 100,000 officers on America's streets "is all but dried up."
Sheriff's office agrees
Meanwhile, a top Harris County law official expressed a similar view of the pitfalls of immigration enforcement.
Major Juan Jorge of the Harris County Sheriff's Office, who spoke before the task force Thursday, said afterward that local immigration enforcement could "darn near cripple" his department.
"It probably could lessen your response time by 10, 15, or 20 percent," Jorge said.
He questioned how deputies could enforce immigration without racial profiling.
"I don't think we have the time to do that. Any arrest is very time-consuming, especially when we have a limited amount of people on patrol," he said. "Anytime you do something like that, it takes people off the street and that keeps you from answering calls."
Jorge asked how officers would determine who to question about their citizenship.
"Again, how do you know they are or not?" he said. "Are you going to ask everyone who looks Hispanic? Am I going to get asked everytime someone sees me on the street, 'Are you legal?' "
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