Martinez News-Gazette: Thompson leads call for ICE agents to shed ‘police’ jackets, vests
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Napa) wants the nation’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop wearing the word “police” on their jackets and vests when they are undertaking enforment operations.
He has been joined by 41 other lawmakers in calling for the change. Thompson represents parts of Martinez in the House.
“This is a matter of public safety,” Thompson said. “Suggesting ICE officers are members of local law enforcement undermines the relationships immigrant communities have established with police departments.”
He continued, “Crimes may go unreported because victims fear they or their loved ones could be reported to immigration officials. Witnesses may not come forward for fear of being reported. This weakens public safety and undercuts local law enforcement.”
Thompson said he has heard from municipal police departments and from county sheriff’s offices, whose representatives said they were concerned about ICE’s practices.
Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal said he wasn’t aware that ICE’s agents were wearing jackets and vests labeled “Police.”
“I do agree with the Congressman Thompson that it can create confusion with the public,” Sappal said.
That possibility troubles him, because it is counter to what he’s trying to accomplish in his department.
“As I have mentioned, we are focused on building and maintaining trust with our community, and do not wish to be perceived in a manner that damages or strains these relationships,” he said.
“I do not believe that this issue is showing up late – I think that people are more aware that the perception in some communities is that police and ICE are one in the same, but that is not the case,” Sappal said.
“Both have different missions, and we do wish to ensure that the public is clear that we do not enforce immigration laws,” he said.
“Having uniforms that correctly identify which branch of law enforcement a government employee is assigned to can help prevent misconceptions with the public.”
Thompson and other legislators have sent John F. Kelly, secretary of Homeland Security, a letter, saying that local agencies in our Congressional districts have expressed serious concerns that this practice causes confusion and undermines their officers’ efforts to build trust in our immigrant communities.
“We respectfully urge you to direct ICE to remove the word ‘Police’ from all ICE gear,” the letter requests.
Thompson’s letter reminded Kelly that other federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) use either the agencies’ names or their abbreviations, and are not labeled “Police.”
“Pictures currently posted to the ICE website demonstrate that ICE does not follow this common practice – vests and jackets worn by ICE officers display the world “Police” in capital letters above ‘ICE,’” he wrote.
Thompson told Kelly this is a public safety issue.
“Undermining the relationships law local enforcement has built with immigrant communities prevents them from effectively policing,” he wrote.
“Crimes may go unreported because victims fear their immigration status may be reported to immigration officials. Witnesses may not come forward out of fear of being deported. This weakens public safety and undercuts local law enforcement,” he wrote.
Thompson concluded by reiterating his request. “We urge you to direct ICE to immediately remove the word ‘Police’ from all ICE gear.”