Ed. Note: The KSL story erroneously refers to the legislation in question as HB81. It is actually SB81.
The debate over illegal immigration in general, and SB81 in particular, could be taking an undesirable turn. A story published on April 21st, 2009 by KSL Channel 5 suggests the possibility that someone may have deliberately called in a false crime report on a known illegal immigrant in order to get the illegal off the street.
According to KSL, a Provo resident called police to report that an 18-year-old male hanging out at a local restaurant had a gun and looked like he might harm someone. The caller also said the individual was in the country illegally. So in response, Provo police called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who dispatched an agent to investigate.
Upon arrival at the restaurant, police found that the individual did NOT have a gun. However, the accompanying ICE agent then took over the investigation, found preliminary evidence that both the individual and his father were not legal residents of the U.S., and arrested them both on suspected immigration violations.
Provo Police Capt. Cliff Argyle sought to allay public concerns about profiling. "Our main concern is locating the individual, finding out if he has a firearm, and if he possesses it illegally," Argyle said. He further explained that they are not out searching for illegal immigrants, but they will call ICE when an investigation leads them to someone in the country illegally. The ICE agents did ask Provo police to transport the two to the county jail, which they did.
In regards to SB81, Argyle said the city's legal department is still going over the bill, and the police chief will ultimately make the call of whether or not to cross-deputize any of their officers to enforce immigration law. While Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank has proclaimed his intent to refuse to enforce the law, primarily for political purposes, other Utah police agencies such as UHP claim they lack the resources to do so.
But this case opens up an interesting - and chilling question - for law enforcement. Did the individual reporting the illegal deliberately and falsely say that the illegal had a gun in order to provoke a police response? And how did the caller know that the person was an illegal? It would be difficult to prosecute someone for filing a false police report under these circumstances, because it would require the prosecution to prove in court that the individual didn't see a "man with a gun". That's pretty subjective.
The problems with such false reports are that they not only tie up law enforcement resources unnecessarily, but may provoke an excessive response. A "man with a gun" report puts cops on maximum alert. They respond ready to pull the trigger, in accordance with their training. Similar cases in other cities have caused SWAT teams to execute dynamic entries unnecessarily and erroneously, causing needless harm.
If people are now considering calling in false police reports on suspected illegals just to get them off the street, that's a sure sign that public frustration with the unwillingness of the establishment to deal with illegal immigration is reaching critical mass. An opinion poll accompanying a recent Provo Daily Herald editorial reflects this. When asked how HB81 should be enforced, two-thirds of respondents say it should be enforced AS CURRENTLY WRITTEN.
Ultimately, the best solution would be a system that allows cops to determine residency status of anyone they detain in the field. When they type in the name of a detainee, they should automatically get back the residency status as well as all other particulars on the individual. This would ensure the most efficient use of all resources, and preempt any concerns about profiling. But police MUST make it clear that they do intend to enforce the law as it is written, and to the best of their ability, in order to retain public confidence in their capabilities.