Ala. mayor, police at odds over immigration enforcement policy

A day after Mayor Tab Bowling on social media criticized a new police immigration enforcement policy and declared Decatur will not be a "sanctuary city," he received a rebuke

Marian Accardi
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

DECATUR, Ala. — A day after Mayor Tab Bowling on social media criticized a new police immigration enforcement policy and declared Decatur will not be a "sanctuary city," he received a rebuke Monday from three council members and a resident called for his resignation.

In a post Sunday on his campaign Facebook page, Bowling claimed the new policy instructed Decatur officers not to support U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He also wrote that he would ask Police Chief Nate Allen to rescind the policy that went into effect Wednesday.

“Let this notice be an answer to all rumors associated with Chief Allen’s policy; Decatur will not be a sanctuary city,” Bowling wrote in the post.

By Monday night, Bowling’s post had been removed from his Facebook page.

The police department initially responded Monday morning with a prepared statement that said its policies "are carefully written and reviewed under the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies’ strict guidelines and best practices."

Later in the day, the city issued a news release that said the mayor's office and the city's legal and police departments were working to correct "misunderstandings or vagueness" in the immigration policy and to ensure it complies with state and federal requirements.

The mayor said he and Allen "worked on that statement together." Bowling said there would be no further comment "until the updated policy is sent out."

Spokeswoman Emily Long said the revised policy should be available today.

The City Council held a special called meeting Monday to address mostly fiscal 2020 budget issues, but Councilman Charles Kirby read a statement that offered an "apology" for "uninformed, ill-advised and/or irrational statements" made about Decatur being a sanctuary city.

Kirby then decided to make his statement a motion, and it passed 3-0-1 with support from Council President Paige Bibbee and Councilwoman Kristi Hill. Councilman Chuck Ard abstained because he arrived as Kirby ended his statement. Councilman Billy Jackson was absent from that meeting but attended a subsequent work session.

Also during the meeting, Suzanne Johnson of Stratford Road Southeast complained about the mayor "publicly attacking our chief of police on Facebook," and demanded Bowling's resignation.

"We have spent thousands of tax dollars for consultants for the purpose of recruiting people to work for the city, including Chief Allen, our new CFO and now a replacement of Wally Terry," she said in a copy of her prepared remarks she provided to the newspaper. "It does not (bode) well to anyone considering taking a position that they may have to live in fear of being hung out to dry on social media."

Bowling refused to comment on the council motion and Johnson's demand. He said on his campaign Facebook page Sunday night that he recently learned of the new immigration policy distributed to the police department by Allen. Officials declined to say Monday what changes were made in the policy.

"I will ask Chief Allen to rescind his policy, and I am confident our City Council will stand in favor of my statement," Bowling wrote on Facebook.

“Immigration is fundamentally a federal issue and we are a creature of the state in so many ways,” he continued. “Being a sanctuary city is not obeying criminal judicial warrants. That is not going to be the case in Decatur, Alabama. We will obey, enforce and support the laws, current and future."

Bowling further said that a decision of this nature should always come to the mayor’s office before implementation.

The Monday morning statement issued from Decatur police said the department is committed to the safety and well-being of all residents.

“Officers shall strive to treat all individuals equally and fairly regardless of their immigration status,” according to the statement.

A team from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies was in Decatur in June to examine the police department’s policies and procedures, management, operations and support services and get public comments.

“As an agency seeking accreditation, we take great pride in creating only fair and clear policies impacting our community,” said CALEA Accreditation Manager Sgt. Selby De Léon. “Our roles as a municipal police department are direct, and our policies are unilaterally focused on the protection of all who reside in Decatur and the officers who keep them safe.”

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, weighed in on the issue on Twitter on Monday, thanking Bowling for his effort.

“The best way to reduce crime, lower tax burdens & protect jobs and incomes for American families is by cooperating with Immigration & Customs Enforcement efforts to evict illegal aliens who thumb their noses at American laws,” Brooks said in the tweet.

According to the new police policy, immigration law enforcement is primarily the responsibility of the federal government through ICE. The policy states that Decatur police would refrain from entering into voluntary 287(g) agreements with ICE since they’re not consistent with “furthering the department’s community policing philosophy.”

ICE’s 287(g) program authorizes its director to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies that permit designated officers to perform limited immigration law enforcement functions. The officers are required to receive training and to function under the supervision of ICE officers.

"The Decatur Police Department does not have a 287(g) agreement at this time," Long said.

According to ICE, as of this year, it had 287(g) agreements with nearly 90 law enforcement agencies nationwide, and most of those are with sheriff’s offices. Etowah County was the only jurisdiction in Alabama listed with an agreement with ICE.

According to the police policy, officers will not undertake any immigration-related investigation unless an operation involves an individual who has committed crimes directly related to public safety and as outlined in Section 5. That section reads that Decatur police will only cooperate with lawful requests from ICE under certain circumstances, after approval is granted by a division commander or the police chief: when individuals are engaged in or suspected of terrorism or espionage, are reasonably suspected of participating in criminal activities as defined by state statute or city ordinance or are classified as previously departed felons.

If the person is suspected of being an undocumented alien, ICE may be contacted with approval from a division commander or the police chief.

The policy states that an individual may not be detained or arrested solely for a suspected violation of immigration law.

According to the policy, Decatur police officers may assist ICE agents only if they anticipate or encounter violent resistance and/or with the approval of a division commander or the police chief.

©2019 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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