Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck stepped into the national immigration debate, announcing that hundreds of illegal immigrants arrested by his officers each year in low-level crimes would no longer be turned over to federal authorities for deportation, reports the Los Angeles Times. The chief said that the heavy-handed federal approach “has eroded the public trust.” The new rules, expected to affect 400 people arrested each year, mark a dramatic attempt by the nation’s second-largest police department to distance itself from federal immigration policies that Beck says unfairly treat undocumented immigrants suspected of committing petty offenses.
Earlier this year, the chief pushed through a controversial plan that limits the cases in which police officers impound vehicles of drivers operating without a license — a group consisting largely of illegal immigrants. He came out in favor of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Those earlier forays won praise from some, but criticism from others who said Beck was going soft on the rule of law. The new rules must be approved by the Police Commission, a civilian oversight board. Beck portrayed the move as necessary to counterbalance federal laws that require local police to share information with federal immigration officials about people arrested. Federal officials review that information and ask police departments to detain thousands of people each year suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. These laws, Beck said, have “a very valid core premise: That you should use the power of the government … to keep and increase public safety. And you should do that by targeting the most serious and violent criminals.