There’s an old saying that goes something like this: a police chief is a cop who thinks they are a politician and a sheriff is a politician who thinks they are a cop. Nothing exemplifies this more than the Frederick County sheriff’s continued policy of clinging to local enforcement of federal immigration laws, which does nothing but create political theater having very little or nothing to do with crime and disorder in our community.
After over a decade of continuing his obsession with enforcement of the federal immigration laws, the sheriff’s fixation has brought Frederick County costly civil suits, demonstrations, tension between the immigrant community and law enforcement, widespread criticism of the sheriff and sheriff’s office that has extended well beyond our county’s borders, and a soiled reputation for our community.
As the rest of the nation is raising concerns about an increase in specific locally centered violent crimes, our sheriff remains fixated on enforcement of federal immigration laws, exemplified by his June 287(g) Steering Committee meeting and his recent trip (June 24, 25) to the Mexico border.
The steering committee meeting showed us that he continues to try and defend his position as he rows against the tide of professional leaders in law enforcement, a broad range of community groups, and an overall trend to abandon local jurisdictions’ enforcement of federal immigration laws, specifically under 287(g). When the current administration’s pick to lead ICE was sheriff of Harris County, Texas, he dropped out of the 287(g) program and intends to redirect the attention of ICE toward serious violent offenders.
The sheriff remains at odds with professional leaders in law enforcement represented by prominent law enforcement professional organizations, including the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Police Foundation (PF), Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), all of which have come out against local enforcement of federal immigration laws.
The sheriff is also at odds with the president’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and its recommendations and action items concerning the relationship with immigrant communities and enforcement of federal immigration laws:
1.9 RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement agencies should build relationships based on trust with immigrant communities. This is central to overall public safety.
1.9.1 ACTION ITEM: Decouple federal immigration enforcement from routine local policing for civil enforcement and non-serious crime.
In a June 30 radio interview, the sheriff boasted about his recent trip to the Mexico border to meet with like-minded politicians, and went so far as to declare Maryland a border state, a stretch even for the geographically challenged.
Part of leadership is being able to read and adapt to changing times and/or conditions. Even as the sheriff’s local 287(g) program and ICE agreement to hold detainees are all but shut down, he persists in pursuing his political agenda instead of focusing on county needs.
Now is the time for strategies that promote collaboration to address community concerns, including the pandemic-fueled rise in deaths due to drug overdoses and concerns about equity in policing. Instead of misleading political posturing, the sheriff could work with Frederick city’s police chief, our state police barrack commander and other local law enforcement leaders to establish community-oriented partnerships to address root causes of violent crime, continue practices that prevent a rise in violent crime, and communicate regularly and honestly with the public about the exact nature of crime in our county, mitigating incorrect fears and assumptions based on problems being experienced elsewhere that have currently captured our nation’s attention.
It is time for the sheriff to abandon 287(g) and his trips to the Mexico border and focus on the job the people of Frederick County elected him to do: addressing our county’s crime and public order problems in ways that are professional, fair and equitable for everyone.
Karl Bickel, formerly second in command of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and former assistant professor of criminal justice is retired from the U.S. Department of Justice and writes from Monrovia. He can be reached at KarlBickel@comcast.net