Why Sheriff, Local Police Disagree On Immigration and Crime In Tulsa


The New York Times explores how immigration enforcement plays out in Tulsa. To the Tulsa County sheriff's office, focusing local law enforcement on illegal immigration makes sense. “As an illegal alien it's really difficult to find a bona fide job,” said sheriff’s spokesman Shannon Clark. “But it's really easy to turn to the drug world and start selling drugs on the corner.” The city police see things differently. Most of the drug dealers and murderers arrested in and around Tulsa, they say, are not immigrants, nor are they Hispanic. Much of the crime in the Hispanic community involves non-Hispanic gangs preying on immigrants who are less likely to report being victimized.

Rather than detain immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally — a policy the sheriff's office strongly supports — the city police say they would rather work with immigrants, here legally or not, to encourage them to report crime and reduce violence. Experts say the conflicting views of two law enforcement departments working side by side in the same place underscores the complexity and competing agendas found at the nexus of the issue of immigration and crime — and the way that the politics of immigration can clash with the reality of beat cops. “The sheriff is elected; it's a political position,” said Elizabeth McCormick, a professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law. “There are motivations at play in the sheriff's office, in terms of continuing to be engaged with immigration, that don't exist for the Tulsa Police Department.”

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