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Rebuffing Hartford, ICE To Continue Identifying As "Police"

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A spokesman for the federal agency that oversees immigration enforcement said its agents will continue to refer to themselves as "police," even though Hartford cops and the city's mayor are asking them to stop.

Shawn Neudauer, a public affairs officer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said that Hartford's claims that ICE is undermining public safety when its agents call themselves police is "outrageous and misguided."

"In fact, the greater threat to public safety is local law enforcement’s unwillingness to honor immigration detainers," Neudauer said. "Rather than transferring criminal aliens to ICE custody as requested, agencies are routinely releasing these offenders back onto the street to potentially reoffend, and their victims are often other members of the immigrant community."

If police arrest an undocumented immigrant for violating a state law, police usually keep the person for set number of days depending on the crime. If ICE has a request to detain the person, state law gives ICE 48 hours to pick him up, unless there are other mitigating circumstances, such as an outstanding warrant in another state. 

Neudauer was responding to recent concerns that were raised after Hartford officers noticed two people standing in front of their headquarters earlier this month with jackets that read "police." An officer approached them and asked who they were, and, according to Hartford cops, the agents said they were with ICE.

Earlier this week, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said that when these agents call themselves police, and use a local police station to do their work, it makes it harder for cops to do their job.

"The reason our police department cares about this is that it's important to them that individuals in our community -- regardless of the status of their documentation -- are comfortable sharing information about crimes, [and] are comfortable sharing information if they've witnessed or been a victim of a crime," Bronin said.

Neudauer said ICE recognizes the need for crime victims to come forward, and added that ICE "works closely with state and local law enforcement to see that foreign nationals who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking crimes are informed about the availability of special visas to enable them to remain in the U.S."

“ICE agents and officers identify themselves as 'police' during an encounter because it is the universally recognized term for law enforcement and our personnel routinely interact with individuals from around the world," he said. "In the often dangerous law enforcement arena, being able to immediately identify yourself as 'law enforcement,' may be a life-or-death issue."

Bronin said that ICE took advantage of the trust that Hartford Police have worked years to build. 

"Our police department has a well-earned reputation of being focused on how to make this city safe and on building trust," Bronin said, "and that's a reputation that was used in this case in a way that can undermine that trust."

State law prohibits impersonating a police officer. But Hartford Police Deputy Chief Brian Foley said his department could not charge the ICE agents for impersonating a police officer, a felony, because "that charge doesn't apply" to federal law enforcement officers. 

The statute includes no language that would exempt a federal agent from being charged for impersonating a police officer. A spokesman from the Office of the Chief State's Attorney declined to comment when asked for clarification on this issue. 

Dan Barrett, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said this is a complicated situation that's probably best handled with diplomacy. 

"It would basically require a seismic shift" in how various law enforcement agencies interact, Barrett said. "I just think it's, practically speaking, unlikely that state prosecutors would charge ICE agents with anything, absent the most extreme situation you can imagine. Because often times they're working with ICE."

Tensions between local law enforcement and ICE agents have been building up in recent months, following the inauguration of President Donald Trump and his various executive orders targeting undocumented immigrants.

Barrett said the best thing cities can do is make it clear to ICE that what it's doing is hurting local policing efforts. Neudauer said he'd be happy to discuss its practices with police leaders in Hartford, but ICE agents will continue identifying as police. 

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