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Bad Cop Blotter

The Horrible Quota Policy Followed by Immigrant Detention Centers

Though illegal immigration is at its lowest levels in years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) still has to keep an average of 34,000 people in custody, even if that means detaining legal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes.
October 14, 2013, 5:01pm

A man holds an anti-deportation sign during a May 1, 2012 protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo via Flickr user Fibonacci Blue

Fun fact: fewer people are sneaking across America’s borders than ever before, and net illegal immigration hit zero in 2012. However, that hasn’t stopped Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from following a “bed mandate” that says it has to keep an average of 34,000 people in custody in its 250 detention centers, as the Washington Post reported this weekend. We’re constantly hearing about how the federal government needs to cut costs, and even the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, said the quota could be easily reduced, yet House Republicans forced an additional $400 million of funding on the agency, mostly for border security and deportation. In spite of the constant panic over the US’s “unsecure border,” the immigration-control budget has nearly doubled since 2006 (the same year the bed mandate began) to $2.8 billion a year, even though illegal immigration is down mostly thanks to the financial crisis that devastated the US economy. Where is all that money going?

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The Post story notes some of the pleasant features of a brand new detention center in Texas that houses immigrants waiting to see if they will win political asylum or be returned to their country of origin: detainees “sleep in air-conditioned, unlocked ‘suites’ with flat-screen TVs overlooking volleyball courts and soccer fields.” That doesn't change the fact that these plush facilities are built by private corporations that lobby federal and state governments in order to assure they have plenty of building contracts. (The ACLU has extensively reported on what they see as a pattern of human rights violations in immigration detention centers.)

Even if you don’t support open borders, it’s natural to question the vast amount of taxpayer money being spent on policing the geographical movements of people who (generally) just want to get a higher-paying job in order to help themselves and their loved ones. According to ICE, on a single day in early September nearly 20,000 out of 34,000 detainees had criminal records—but in 2009 ICE found that only 11 percent of its detainee population had committed violent crimes.

In order to maintain the bed quota, ICE has shifted to imprisoning legal immigrants who have committed crimes they could be deported for, as well as undocumented immigrants who the cops encounter during traffic stops. As is the case in the rest of the criminal justice system, nonviolent criminals are foolishly mixed in with violent ones. One horror story highlighted by the Post is that of a 25-year legal resident who was detained because he was on probation for growing a marijuana plant in order to relieve joint pain caused by diabetes. A judge ordered his release, but not before he had served three months in jail.

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Like most issues surrounding federal law enforcement, it’s not a few bad apples causing problems—the issue is an expensive, often-cruel system that runs on autopilot and is difficult to change. The federal government is too big, and a great way to cut it down could be muting the hysteria over a nonexistent problem of the peaceful movement of people. Killing the bed quota would be a good start.

On this week’s bad cops:

- Last week the Florida Sun-Sentinel published a long expose of the Sunrise, Florida, Police Department’s legal but shady habit of bringing in particularly large amounts of cash through the asset forfeiture from cocaine sales. Often law enforcement poses as a drug buyer in order to arrest dealers, but in Sunrise, cops frequently sell drugs in order to arrest buyers. They also have an unusual habit of bringing in suspects from outside the county and state. Basically, the cops were big-time drug dealers who robbed their customers then threw them in jail. In 2012, the city earned $2 million dollars in forfeiture funds and in 2011 they took in $4 million, far beyond what comparable nearby towns brought in. It was a cash cow for everyone from the officers, who earned significant overtime pay, to informants, who got up to tens of thousands of dollars for their help. On Sunday, the Huffington Post reported that the city suspended this program in response to the Sun-Sentinel’s dogged reporting—according to Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan, this is not because of any wrongdoing uncovered by the paper, but because they endangered cops by reporting on police tactics.

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- In December 2012, as part of a county-wide operation that lead to the arrest of 22 high school students, the 17-year-old autistic and bipolar son of Doug and Catherine Snodgress was arrested by a Riverside County, California, cop. The unnamed senior at Chaparral High School thought he had made a new friend named Daniel Briggs, but Briggs was actually an undercover cop who wheedled him into purchasing a joint off of a homeless man on two different occasions. The first buy took the young Snodgrass three weeks to complete, according to Reason, and Catherine and Doug see the police as having taught their son how to find and purchase drugs. After he was eventually taken out of class by police, the teen spent 48 hours in juvie and was also expelled. Eventually found not guilty due to extenuating circumstances, his problems aren’t over—his parents say the event was extremely traumatic, and though he is back at Chaparral thanks to a judge’s order, the school is appealing that decision. The Snodgrasses, meanwhile, plan to file a lawsuit against the school district on October 30. All in all, these types of undercover operations are a great way to teach children valuable lessons like 1) Don’t trust anyone 2) The cops will lie to you for no reason 3) It’s OK to pick on people with developmental problems.

- Last week Wojciech Braszczok, an off-duty undercover NYPD cop, was arrested for attacking an SUV as part of a biker gang, a crime which he lied to his superiors about until a video came out. Turns out Braszczok was also one of the UCs who infiltrated Occupy Wall Street, which makes you wonder what exactly the NYPD’s “Intelligence Division,” which Braszczok is a part of, gets up to on a day-to-day basis.

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- On Monday, a reportedly 300-pound, six-foot tall probation officer fatally shot a 12-pound Jack Russell terrier when it approached him during a routine house visit in Albany, Georgia. Carrie Shelton, the owner of the dog (poignantly named Patches) says officer Antoine Jones told her he feared for his life, but she didn’t even have time to explain to Jones that Patches wouldn’t bite before he opened fire. The police report claims Jones used his weapon because “he gave the dog verbal commands to get back but the dog continued to come towards him in an aggressive manner.” The Georgia Department of Correction has already issued a statement calling the “puppycide” justified.

- Randy Hagler, the head of the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police, is among the cops protesting the quick arrest of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg officer who was arrested for voluntary manslaughter hours after he shot Jonathan A. Ferrell, the unarmed man who was likely looking for help after an early morning car accident. As quoted by the Associated Press on Saturday, Hagler said he worried that the charge “shakes [officers’] confidence.” Other police groups are chiming in to criticize the brief surge of accountability for his actions that officer Randall Kerrick is suffering. The chief of police in Waterloo, Iowa, told the AP, “My concern is we're going to have an officer—any officer someplace in the country—hesitate when they are justified in taking action and lose their life." James Pasco, the head of the national FOP, added, “You don't check your civil rights at the station house door.” Coming from almost anyone else on the planet than spokespersons for the FOP—and about anyone else on the planet besides a cop—critiques over hasty prosecutions might have a point. Here they are a joke. Even the chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD isn’t standing by Kendrick, saying his officer’s shots were not justified under the circumstances.

- On Wednesday, prosecutors announced they had decided against charging LAPD Officer Mary O’Callaghan with manslaughter stemming from the 2012 death of Alesia Thomas—instead they went with the milder “assault under color of authority” charge, which can bring a maximum of a year in prison. The charge relates to an incident in which O’Callaghan kicked Thomas in the groin and stomach and pushed her in the throat while she was being cuffed. (She was accused of abandoning her children.) Thomas, a 35-year-old who suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and various drug addictions was placed in the patrol car after being beaten, and she quickly lost consciousness and paramedics were unable to revive her. LAPD chief Charlie Beck wrote in a report to the civilian board that oversees the department that he was concerned over O’Callaghan’s “apparent indifference” as she assaulted Thomas. He also criticized the three other officers and the supervisor who were present for the arrest, writing that one possibly lied in the official report and two others ignored Thomas’s requests for medical aid.

- Our Good Cop of the Week comes from Gwinnett County, Georgia. On Thursday night, Tim Kutsch of the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Department helped save six Alzheimer's-afflicted residents of a nursing home. Kutsch was both out of his jurisdiction and off duty when he passed by the fire, but he radioed for help and entered the building when he heard there were people inside. He pulled one unconscious woman out of the building before firefighters arrived and saved the rest. (The patients were hospitalized but all are expected to survive.) During his heroics, Kutsch cut his arm badly enough to require ten stitches, and his department honored him with an award the next day. Way to go, Tim!

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @lucystag

Previously: Wait a Second Before Cheering a Police Shooting