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Acevedo predicts changes to deportation program

Friday, August 29, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told the Monitor on Thursday that he believes the focus of the federal Secure Communities Program could change by the end of 2014. Speaking after he briefed the Council on a proposed new city booking facility, Acevedo added to comments he made to Council members.

“What’s happening right now is that the major city (police) chiefs are working with the Department of Homeland Security and the (Obama) administration on proposals on how we can make sure that we reboot SCOM and focus on what we truly need to focus on — and that is hardened criminals, and people that are doing harm to our community,” Acevedo said. “I believe that before the end of the year, that you are going to see some significant changes that will alleviate some of the social issues created by SCOM.”

He continued: “From my perspective, if someone, but for their immigration status, is a productive member of society, and they are arrested for a minor offense — that can happen to anyone of us, especially in an environment where you can’t get a driver’s license … and you deport that person who is the head-of-household or the breadwinner, you create a lot of social problems that can lead to other problems (and) that ultimately does not enhance the safety of our community.”

The Secure Communities Program, known by its SCOM acronym, adds an element to booking procedures designed to filter out potential undocumented immigrants. Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton has received wide criticism thanks to his jurisdiction’s participation in the program. Hamilton believes that under federal law, the county must screen detainees. Others suggest this may not be the case.

Either way, Acevedo believes that, should Council eventually approve the new booking facility, it would be completed after the change in policy focus.

“I don’t think (this facility) is going to have any impact on that (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) issue,” Acevedo told Council members. “I’ve actually had meetings at the White House where the president attended and the (attorney general) attended — they are working right now with law enforcement throughout the country because of some of the backlash in terms of law enforcement leadership and political leadership feeling that it needs to be tweaked a little bit.”

Meanwhile, if completed, police officials believe the new booking facility would save the city as much as $15 million over 10 years, including construction costs. Further, Acevedo and Assistant Chief Brian Manley suggest that the new building, a structure they are calling a Magistration Center, would cut the time officers spend in the booking queue in half. They argue that would increase the amount of uncommitted time officers have at their disposal.

Uncommitted time is a key factor in community policing strategies. Acevedo believes that with more uncommitted time, officers can focus on being actively involved in their community.

The facility would allow the city to discontinue its current interlocal agreement with Travis County related to handling of city arrestees at the county’s Criminal Justice Center. Council members did not vote on the matter Thursday. That will come later.


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