‘Welcoming’ ordinance ill received; police chief calls for more Tasers

By Jim Hagerty

CITY HALL — The Rockford Codes & Regulation Committee introduced a measure it aims to improve relations with minorities who are victims of crime Monday.

Dubbed the “Welcoming City” ordinance, alderman seek to prohibit police from checking the immigration status of people who call the police. This includes undocumented citizens who are victims of crimes and those who commonly choose not to call police in fear of being deported.

“No agent or agency shall condition the receipt of the City benefits, opportunities, or services on an individual’s citizenship or immigration status unless required to do so by statute, federal regulation, or an order of a court of competent jurisdiction,” a draft of the proposed ordinance reads.

The ordinance would also prohibit police or any employee tasked with providing city services to refuse those services to anyone who may not produce valid citizenship status.

Leaders say it is already standard practice of local law enforcement to not ask for immigration status when officers interview witnesses, victims or suspects. For that reason, some say a new ordinance could be more effective if was more encompassing or if other ordinances were put in place first.

“My problem is that we don’t have an ordinance that prohibits racial profiling,” Third Ward Alderman Venita Hervey said. “We don’t have any of those types of things. And although I am not opposed to a global ordinance, I have a problem with it. I understand that immigration is particularly sensitive right now, but I don’t like the carve-out [of the ordinance] when we still haven’t dealt with the issue of race. Ethnicity goes right along with it. You’re not allowed to discriminate against people based on race or ethnicity.”

There is new state law similar to what the committee is proposing, a bill Gov. Bruce Rauner signed in August that prohibits state and local police agencies from detaining anyone based on citizenship or federal detainer status. The law states that for someone to be held on a federal detainer, a judge must issue an arrest warrant.

“The law is clear,” Alderman Tim Durkee, R-1, said. “I don’t know why we need this. I think it’s using an ordinance to make a social statement and so I will not support it.”

The committee tabled the vote on the measure and are expected to revisit the ordinance in two weeks. The proposal needs committee approval to be placed before the full city council.

• In other city business, the Rockford Police Department could get more than two dozen Tasers. The Finance & Personnel Committee approved to use $42,074 from the police operating budget to purchase 30 devices from an Arizona vendor. Leaders say by bolstering the department’s stock of Tasers, otherwise known as stun guns, will help curb the use of force among police officers.

The department currently uses a total of 55 Tasers. Officers are trained in-house on the use of the devices. Each officer is required to re-certify every year to continue carrying them.

“We currently have some officers who don’t have Tasers because of shift overlaps,” Police Chief Dan O’Shea said. “I want every patrol officer, every SCOPE officer and every RHA officer who is certified to have a Taser. Because it’s a less lethal option available to them.”

O’Shea said Tasers will complement the department’s other non-lethal weapons like bean-bag guns and rubber bullets.

A recent Reuters study showed 1,005 deaths in the U.S. involving police use of Tasers: “In the most thorough accounting to date of fatal police encounters involving the paralyzing stun guns, Reuters found that nine in 10 of those who died were unarmed and one in four suffered from mental illness or neurological disorders.”

The company responsible for the manufacture of the stun guns, Taser International Inc., changed its name earlier this year to Axon Enterprise. R.

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