Crimes against the immigrant community have increased and some victims are not reporting crimes because of Senate Bill 4, which hasn’t even taken effect, an assistant police chief told the Fort Worth City Council Tuesday.
But it still appears likely the council won’t join a lawsuit opposing the new measure, which gives law enforcement officers the authority to ask about a person’s immigration status during routine police interactions such as traffic stops. No direction was given to staff after Tuesday’s work session.
“Senate Bill 4 is not going to change the values of the Fort Worth police department, but we do recognize this law will cause some strain between certain members of the community and local law enforcement. We believe this may cause fear and distrust,” Assistant Chief Ed Kraus said.
What we’ve already seen is certain members of our community not reporting crimes, an increase in crime against the immigrant community, and it could create a class of silent victims.
Ed Kraus, assistant Fort Worth police chief
“What we’ve already seen is certain members of our community not reporting crimes, an increase in crime against the immigrant community, and it could create a class of silent victims.”
Fort Worth is the largest city in Texas to not participate in the lawsuit, which has already been joined by Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
SB4 also requires police chiefs and sheriffs to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for deportation or face hefty fines.
The Fort Worth community has been pressing the City Council to take a stand, and a public vote, on joining a lawsuit filed in May that challenges the constitutionality of the law.
The mayor and each council member spoke passionately about their positions, after a presentation on the law and what the city is doing to prepare for it, during a council work session Tuesday. The four council members who support joining the lawsuit spoke first, followed by the mayor and the four council members who oppose it. In the end, the issue was left hanging.
Fort Worth officers are not currently allowed to contact immigration officials, but that prohibition is being revised to meet the guidelines of the new law, Kraus told the council. He said he didn’t think the department would have a large number of officers trying to enforce immigration law and that racial profiling is “strictly prohibited” under department policy.
“We expect our officers to use their time judiciously answering calls for service, proactively patrolling their beats trying to deter and prevent crime,” Kraus said. “We expect that they will treat everyone they encounter with compassion and respect and these expectations will not change under the new law.”
SB 4 is in violation of every civil rights amendment that is out there and how we don’t see that is beyond reason to me.
Kelly Allen Gray, District 8 councilwoman
Those assurances did little to calm the concerns of District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray who, said there are good officers, but there are also some “who are out there on an island by themselves ... and that scares me.”
“SB 4 is in violation of every civil rights amendment that is out there and how we don’t see that is beyond reason to me,” Gray said. “If you’ve never been pulled over because the color of your skin, let me tell you, as a black woman, it does not feel good.”
District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens, who favors joining the lawsuit, said it will be important for police to educate communities about the law and the protocol the department will follow.
“I don’t believe all the officers are bad by all means ... but every once in awhile, and it’s been documented, we have a problem,” Bivens said. “Even though the laws say racial profiling is illegal, pardon me while I spit. We know that has never been blanket truth.”
District 9 Councilwoman Ann Zadeh said many in the community have told her they do not feel safe, particularly in her largely minority district. She said she supports joining the lawsuit, arguing that “a wait and see attitude is basically punting to others who have stepped forward.”
Zadeh also said the new law puts costly burdens on local government.
In speaking against joining the lawsuit, District 7 Councilman Dennis Shingleton said immigration and border control are federal issues.
“We have got to have some sort of handle on immigration policy in this country. Is SB 4 that answer? Of course not,” Shingleton said. “But, when we allow our citizens or our non-citizens to turn a blind eye to the law, then we have opened the door in my opinion to conditions that go toward an anarchy. We cannot allow people to suborn the laws that have been made.”
District 4 Councilman Cary Moon said Fort Worth does not need to join the lawsuit for a judicial review of SB 4.
“SB 4 can stand on its own without us deploying manpower and dollars to that,” Moon said. “I value our neighbors, our families and our friends in the Hispanic community that could be negatively impacted by SB 4. My role as an elected official is to minimize that impact. If we can uphold the laws that are given to us ... that is our responsibility.”