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By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

ACLU proposes rules to local law agencies

 

Jess Macinko

ALL EARS: Law enforcement officials from Klickitat and Skamania counties listen to a speaker at the ACLU rules meeting.

Last Wednesday, a panel of local law enforcement officials met to discuss proposed rules suggested by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In general, their responses had two thrusts: law enforcement (L.E.) is governed by the U.S. Constitution and state and local law, not the ACLU, but L.E. doors are always open to citizens with specific questions or concerns.

The March 29 meeting, organized by Sasha Bentley and Christina Bowen, featured Klickitat County Sherriff Bob Songer, Skamania County Sherriff Dave Brown, Goldendale Police Chief Reggie Bartkowski, and Bingen-White Salmon Police Chief Tracy Wyckoff. It ran for an hour and 40 minutes, beginning with questions from the organizers to L.E. about which rules they would be willing to enact, which rules they already had on the books, and which they would be reluctant to adopt and why.

The rules are part of PeoplePower.org, an ACLU initiative aimed at resisting Trump administration policies the organization finds unconstitutional or detrimental to civil rights. The rules, which can be read in full at peoplepower.org/freedom-cities. html#toc-9model, are specifically intended to limit local law enforcement aid to "Trump's mass deportation agenda."

In summary, L.E. responses identified the bulk of the rules' content as policy they already follow, and hence redundant to adopt according to ACLU suggestion. Sherriff Songer reiterated his unwillingness to obtain federal commissions for his deputies, and the general infeasibility of assisting in sweeps for undocumented immigrants guilty of no other crime. He repeated that the Sherriff's Office (KCSO) would notify federal authorities if subjects of criminal investigations are discovered to be here illegally.

Likewise, Sherriff Brown addressed immigration enforcement as a federal matter "beyond the scope of [local] authority." On the issue of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, Brown wrote, "The Skamania County Sherriff's Office recognizes that current ICE detainers lack any legal standing authorizing detention of an individual beyond a sentence imposed by a judge with jurisdiction. Because of this . . . ICE detainers in their current format will not be recognized as a lawful document to hold an individual. Should ICE provide SKCO with a probable cause affidavit or a valid warrant, we will take every effort to ensure such orders are enforced."

Where the proposed rules diverged from or added to state and federal law, L.E. responded that they would adhere to the law. These instances included ACLU injunctions to require federal immigration agents to be visibly identified during visits to local L.E. facilities (i.e. jails), and for L.E. to refrain from releasing inmates' "personally identifiable data" to the agencies. Both suggestions received a qualified "no."

Throughout the meeting, officials expressed openness to public input and encouraged concerned citizens to get involved in local government.

Common ground?

At times, the perceived redundancy of certain rules bordered on insult for some L.E. representatives. Brown cited rule 9, which asks officials not to take action against individuals based solely on "perceived race, national origin, religion, language, or immigration status," as particularly offensive.

"This rule is a slap in the face to L.E.," Brown said. "They understand this. It's in the policy and it's the law." Chief Wyckoff echoed Brown's dismay, speaking of the "bad light" shed on L.E. in recent times.

The public comment portion of the meeting was also heated. Both sides of the political and cultural divide were well-represented and vocal. There was contention and confusion over the rights afforded illegal immigrants under the Constitution, as well as the respective roles of local L.E. and the ACLU.

Bentley, who organized the meeting as a concerned citizen but is also chair of the Klickitat County Democrats, later told The Sentinel it's unfortunate that "Democrat and ACLU are heavy labels," and that anyone would perceive the meeting as an attempt to offend L.E. or thwart the current presidency.

"The rules are being proposed, and are necessary, because they are good policy that provides a safe community and safe policing," Bentley said. "I see common ground in that we all want the same thing: for our communities to be safe and thriving, and for our law enforcement officers to have resources and support to be successful and safe in their service." Bentley said she hopes to organize similar events in the future and continue the local conversation.

Sherriff Songer also spoke to The Sentinel of safer communities as a common goal, and said that though he didn't agree with the ACLU's approach and some of the views expressed at the meeting, he felt the dialogue was worthwhile. "People have a right to voice opinions on both sides of the issue. Things got aired that needed to be aired."

Other issues: signs and posse

Some audience members voiced concern about the KCSO posse, specifically regarding training and oversight. Songer replied that the volunteer organization is a highly vetted and supervised group of "outstanding citizens" who help KCSO conserve resources, and that he hopes to quell rumors about them.

"They're not commissioned officers. They're not doing sweeps for undocumented immigrants," Songer said, adding that he'd be happy to walk through posse policy and procedure with concerned parties.

Songer's anti-drug signs were also the subject of comment: some support, some criticism of the "tough love" approach and speculated negative impact to community image.

At the meeting, Songer took a hard stance in defense of the signs, citing public support. Later, he expressed willingness to continue talking about the issue, including the possibility of incorporating a rehabilitative message: If you have an addiction problem and want help, call this number.

Songer also said he looks forward to developing a cooperative, cross-partisan effort to address county drug issues.

 

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