CMPD at­tempt­ing to dis­tance it­self from ICE, build trust with im­mi­grants

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY TEO ARMUS tar­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

The front of Los Reyes 2, a strip-mall gro­cery in east Char­lotte, is cov­ered in call­ing cards and phone charg­ers and key­chains in the shape of som­breros and flags from Latin Amer­ica. Lately, there’s also been a tall stack of blue and white pam­phlets sit­ting on the counter.

“¿Se han dado cuenta? Pue­den lla­mar a la policía sin prob­lema,” owner Jackie Roque told two cus­tomers ear­lier this month, hand­ing them each a pam­phlet as they walked in­side the store. “Have you heard? You can call the po­lice, no prob­lem.”

That flier, writ­ten in Span­ish, is be­ing distributed at Latino busi­nesses around the city by the Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Po­lice Depart­ment. It’s part of CMPD’s ef­forts to dis­tance it­self from Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, which has stepped up its en­force­ment lo­cally in re­cent months.

But po­lice are still strug­gling to build trust among the city’s im­mi­grants, le­gal or not, at a time when many are in­creas­ingly ter­ri­fied — and mis­in­formed — about what could hap­pen if they in­ter­act with law en­force­ment.

“Peo­ple feel that ICE and po­lice are the same thing,” said Lt. Brad Koch, a CMPD spokesper­son. “So we feel it’s im­por­tant that we put it down on pa­per: We’re not go­ing to de­port you. We want you to call us.”

Af­ter the county sher­iff’s depart­ment ended its 287(g) agree­ment with ICE last year, it’s an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion to

make. Un­til Novem­ber, the partnership re­quired sher­iff’s deputies to check the le­gal sta­tus of in­mates brought to county jail, putting a steady stream of un­law­ful im­mi­grants in de­ten­tion and giv­ing many oth­ers a rea­son to avoid po­lice.

But fol­low­ing ICE’s re­sponse to the sher­iff — a re­tal­ia­tory sweep of ar­rests in Fe­bru­ary — im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates say there’s much more that CMPD should be do­ing to ease nerves in places like east Char­lotte. At pub­lic and pri­vate meet­ings, they have called on po­lice to cease traf­fic check­points, which can be con­fused with ICE ac­tiv­ity, and put out state­ments ac­knowl­edg­ing when im­mi­gra­tion agents are ac­tive in Char­lotte.

As ICE shows no signs of slow­ing down, though, it has lo­cal po­lice play­ing catch-up.

‘MAKE THEM UN­DER­STAND’

One po­lice of­fi­cer at the cen­ter of Char­lotte’s im­mi­gra­tion de­bate is Martin Bau­com, who spends much of his time on pa­trol stop­ping by apart­ment com­plexes and strip malls and speak­ing to res­i­dents in Span­ish.

It’s an un­likely job, he said, for some­one who grew up in Union County be­liev­ing that all im­mi­grants in the U.S. should be re­quired to learn English. But af­ter fel­low Of­fi­cer Steve Branan in­sisted he tag along to Span­ish class, Bau­com has grown to love every­thing about Latino cul­ture: the lan­guage, the peo­ple, the food.

To­gether, the duo has built re­la­tion­ships in their east Char­lotte precinct that po­lice lead­er­ship say are a model for the rest of the depart­ment.

The pair stops at church events and goes to com­mu­nity fes­ti­vals. They shop and eat at Los Reyes 2 and have taken part in a pro­gram where Latino chil­dren teach them Span­ish. Since 2016, they’ve led an ini­tia­tive that brings of­fi­cers to­gether with im­mi­grant fam­i­lies to share food, play ice-break­ers and en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion — all to show im­mi­grants that po­lice can be trusted.

“The more stuff you can do to make them un­der­stand, the bet­ter off you’re go­ing to be,” Bau­com said. “It’s a mat­ter of ed­u­cat­ing them and show­ing them that we’re not ICE. We’re not a dan­ger.”

Their work has never been more dif­fi­cult than it is now, he said. From 2016 to 2017, im­mi­grants re­ported 40 per­cent fewer crimes na­tion­wide, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the ACLU. Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in par­tic­u­lar of­ten goes un­der-re­ported be­cause vic­tims fear de­ten­tion or de­por­ta­tion if they reach out for help.

A mother and her son turned up for a do­mes­tic-vi­o­lence case. Then ICE ar­rested them.

El­iz­a­beth Martinez, who is from El Sal­vador, said that she and her hus­band were too afraid to call the po­lice af­ter their apart­ment was robbed in the sum­mer of 2017. They both came to the U.S. il­le­gally.

“It’s not that I’m afraid of the po­lice,” she said. “I’m just afraid that the po­lice will ask for my pa­pers and take me.”

Ef­forts to com­bat that fear are com­ing from the top, too: Po­lice Chief Kerr Put­ney has made ap­pear­ances on Latina 102.3, a lo­cal Span­ish-lan­guage ra­dio sta­tion, to ad­dress mis­in­for­ma­tion and take ques­tions about CMPD’s role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. And about 4 per­cent of CMPD’s nearly 1,900 of­fi­cers re­ceive ex­tra pay for speak­ing another lan­guage, most of them Span­ish.

‘IT RE­ALLY CON­FUSES PEO­PLE’

But all of that has been com­pli­cated by a shift in ICE’s en­force­ment tac­tics. Af­ter Meck­len­burg Sher­iff Garry McFad­den cut off ICE’s ac­cess to county jails through 287(g), the fed­eral agency said it had “no choice” but to ramp up ar­rests of those im­mi­grants liv­ing here il­le­gally, out on the streets and in neigh­bor­hoods.

Dur­ing a week-long pe­riod of mass ar­rests in Fe­bru­ary, sev­eral ICE agents were cap­tured on video wear­ing bul­let­proof vests la­beled “PO­LICE,” as they stopped cars and put peo­ple in hand­cuffs.

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, said that his agency’s of­fi­cers never claim to be a mem­ber of another law en­force­ment agency and al­ways vis­i­bly wear an ICE badge and in­signia. And all of their tac­tics, he said, are used to tar­get spe­cific in­di­vid­u­als.

“We deal with peo­ple who speak mul­ti­ple lan­guages and many in­di­vid­u­als who may not speak any English,” Cox said. “‘Po­lice’ is the uni­ver­sally un­der­stood term for law en­force­ment.”

Ad­vo­cates, though, said the vests make it easy to con­fuse dif­fer­ent agen­cies — es­pe­cially when CMPD of­fi­cers are also con­duct­ing traf­fic stops.

Dur­ing the same week in Fe­bru­ary as those mass ar­rests, CMPD con­ducted traf­fic stops along East In­de­pen­dence Boule­vard, a busy Latino thor­ough­fare where ICE agents had also been stop­ping cars and de­tain­ing peo­ple.

“It re­ally con­fuses peo­ple who are in fear and don’t un­der­stand what’s go­ing on,” said Ste­fa­nia Arteaga, an or­ga­nizer with the im­mi­grants’ rights group Co­mu­nidad Colec­tiva. “They’re so scared that they stop go­ing to busi­nesses and stop send­ing their kids to school. Some stop leav­ing the house.”

Koch, the po­lice spokesman, said that CMPD chooses in ad­vance where to op­er­ate about two check­points each month, us­ing data on the cor­ri­dors with the high­est num­bers of se­ri­ous crashes. The stops are part of the city’s ef­fort to elim­i­nate traf­fi­cre­lated fa­tal­i­ties.

But for many of the im­mi­grants who drive, shop, and live nearby, those traf­fic stops were in­dis­tin­guish­able from ICE’s en­force­ment tac­tics: Law en­force­ment of­fi­cers from both agen­cies were parked on the side of the road, stop­ping peo­ple they claimed had bro­ken the law.

For that rea­son, im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates like Arteaga have called on po­lice to stop traf­fic check­points dur­ing pe­ri­ods of height­ened ICE ac­tiv­ity in Char­lotte — even af­ter city coun­cil voted unan­i­mously not to.

City Coun­cil­man Tariq Bokhari said that the height­ened fear among Char­lotte’s im­mi­grants would be most ef­fec­tively ad­dressed by re­in­stat­ing the county’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in 287(g).

He said the partnership made it eas­ier for ICE to ar­rest dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals and would al­low the agency to de­crease its pres­ence in neigh­bor­hoods.

“No one was flood­ing city coun­cil about how chil­dren are suf­fer­ing these ter­ri­ble im­pacts be­fore 287(g) was re­moved,” Bokhari said. “Ac­tivist groups are try­ing to solve the prob­lem from the tail wag­ging the dog.”

DOES CMPD KNOW WHEN ICE SHOWS UP?

Be­sides ceas­ing traf­fic stops, Arteaga said she wants po­lice to make a state­ment rec­og­niz­ing when they be­come aware of height­ened ICE ac­tiv­ity.

CMPD knows about ICE show­ing up, she charged, be­cause peo­ple have called the po­lice to re­port the pres­ence of sus­pi­cious ve­hi­cles op­er­ated by the agency for en­force­ment.

In at least one in­stance ear­lier this year, a U.S. cit­i­zen called the po­lice af­ter agents — who would not iden­tify which agency they worked for — stopped her and in­sisted her driver’s li­cense was fake, said Zoila Ve­lasquez, a lawyer the woman had pre­vi­ously con­sulted.

But Koch said CMPD did not find out about the mass ar­rests in Fe­bru­ary un­til he was asked about them at a press con­fer­ence, adding that 911 calls about ICE — or cars be­lieved to be ICE — had no way of reach­ing the depart­ment’s lead­er­ship.

When a tip­ster re­ports a sus­pi­cious ve­hi­cle, CMPD of­fi­cers are sent out to in­ves­ti­gate and can­not take any ac­tion with­out signs of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, he said. These in­ci­dents are only recorded in CMPD’s call notes, hun­dreds of which are taken down by the depart­ment ev­ery day.

And even if fed­eral agents are de­tain­ing some­one, po­lice say there is lit­tle they can do.

“The work that ICE does is not il­le­gal,” Koch said. “They’re work­ing within the pa­ram­e­ters of the fed­eral law.”

THE ROLE OF HSI

The fliers that CMPD distributed to stores like Los Reyes 2 read in Span­ish:

But that’s only true to a point. While CMPD does not col­lab­o­rate with En­force­ment and Re­moval Op­er­a­tions — the branch of ICE that deals with most ar­rests — it does work to­gether with Home­land Se­cu­rity In­ves­ti­ga­tions, a sep­a­rate branch of the fed­eral agency.

That depart­ment, which main­tains one of its 30 of­fices in Char­lotte, conducts in­ves­ti­ga­tions into child ex­ploita­tion, com­puter crimes and money laun­der­ing, among other ar­eas of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

In 2015, HSI un­cov­ered three lo­cal mur­ders re­lated to the gang MS-13; more re­cently, the of­fice part­nered with CMPD and state agen­cies to fight hu­man traf­fick­ing dur­ing the NBA All-Star Game in Fe­bru­ary.

But it’s also re­spon­si­ble for work­place raids, such as one in Fe­bru­ary at an arms man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in San­ford, N.C. that ar­rested 27 peo­ple, who were later charged with us­ing stolen so­cial se­cu­rity num­bers and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and then trans­ferred to ERO.

Ruth Perez, an im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cate and mem­ber of the city’s in­ter­na­tional cab­i­net, said Char­lotte does not need to go as far as Cal­i­for­nia, which bans lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions from work­ing with HSI in any ca­pac­ity. While CMPD should help HSI with nar­cotics in­ves­ti­ga­tions, it should draw the line at fal­si­fied doc­u­ments, she said.

“The cops are here to pro­tect our city from crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity,” she said, and us­ing fake doc­u­ments shouldn’t be a crime.

Koch did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment about the work­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween HSI and ICE.

For his part, Bau­com, the po­lice of­fi­cer, said he be­lieves that CMPD should work with HSI on only the most ex­treme cases. He wants ICE to stop wear­ing vests that say “PO­LICE” and con­fuse the res­i­dents he works with ev­ery day.

But re­la­tion­ships are more of a con­cern for him than pol­icy. Stand­ing by the door of Los Reyes 2, he greeted each cus­tomer who walked in­side with an ac­cented buenos días and ¿Cómo es­tás?

“It’s a process to build that trust back up,” Bau­com said. “If they don’t see it for them­selves, they’re not go­ing to be­lieve it.”

He turned to head in­side, to the hole-in-the­wall food counter in the back of the shop. There were car­ni­tas for lunch.

PHO­TOS BY DAVID T. FOS­TER III dt­fos­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

CMPD Of­fi­cers Steve Branan and Marty Bau­com talk with Jackie Po­quen at Los Reyes 2 gro­cery store on Thurs­day in Char­lotte. The depart­ment is strug­gling to build trust among im­mi­grants, who are con­fused about the dif­fer­ence be­tween po­lice and Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

A CMPD info card in Span­ish dis­cussing the dif­fer­ences be­tween the CMPD and ICE is seen at the check­out of Los Reyes 2 in east Char­lotte.

DAVID T. FOS­TER III dt­fos­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Po­lice Of­fi­cer Steve Branan laughs with a cus­tomer at Los Reyes 2 gro­cery store in east Char­lotte on Thurs­day.

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