Mar 31, 2010 4:19 AM by Jeannette Hynes
To protect and serve, no matter a person's status in the country. The heads of both the Colorado Springs Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office say they want to be clear: they're not patrolling for illegal immigrants.
"There's a lot of misinformation floating around that maybe we're out rounding people up that are undocumented and we're not. We're only focused and prioritizing those who commit criminal acts in our community," says El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.
Maketa says, for his deputies to do their jobs better, they look to technology. The say they need access to federal immigration information, everything from criminal history to fingerprints.
Both Maketa and Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers were part of a conference Tuesday where agencies from across the state and federal officials got together to discuss their unique and common immigration issues when it comes to law enforcement.
One program has shown results. Right now, the Criminal Justice Center in El Paso County has 16 deputies who are part of the federal 287 (g) program. It allows deputies at the jail access to federal immigration data. When a person is held for a crime in jail, deputies can check to see if they're wanted in their home countries or if they are in the U.S. illegally. Last year, they processed 1,300 people, deporting nearly 450 people. The big difference for the Sheriff's Office is people are spending fewer days in jail and fewer people are in the local jail, somewhat easing the jail's overcrowding issue.
In the near future, El Paso County may be part of a program that would compare fingerprints taken in the county directly with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) database.
Chief Myers says one of the problems patrol officers have is when people aren't carrying any form of identification. Myers says immigrants should carry some form of I.D.
"To help with the police mission of solving crimes and identifying not only victims and witnesses but suspects as well," says Myers.
For local and national security, officers say they need to know who's here, and they're looking to Washington D.C. to make long-term changes.