Immigrants’ fear undermines trust and safety

Editor’s Note: This editorial originally appeared in the Des Moines Register.

I have had the privilege of working in Iowa law enforcement my entire career. And for the past six years, I have served as police chief of Marshalltown (population 28,000), an hour northeast of Des Moines.

We are a diverse community, and we like it that way. If you walked down the halls of our high school, you would hear students speaking more than 40 languages. Immigrants working in agriculture, manufacturing and retail strengthen our economy and social fabric.

Our approach to law enforcement is simple: It’s all about trust. My department’s main job is to ensure public safety. To do our job well, our residents need to know they can call us to report crimes.

We have built this trust by hosting public events like Coffee with a Cop and Citizens Police Academy. In conversations with residents, I have found that the vast majority — citizen or immigrant, documented or undocumented — want the same things: safe neighborhoods, good schools and security for their families.

This foundation of trust works: Violent crime and overall crime have decreased in the six years that I’ve served in Marshalltown.

But something has changed here in recent months. As the national debate about immigration has heated up, a new fear has taken root. Rumors of raids in immigrant communities have started to circulate.

After a series of raids at a local meat-processing plant about a decade ago, it took years for our police to rebuild trust with immigrant communities, many of whom were separated from their families during the arrests. As rumors of raids circulate, immigrants are less likely to report crimes to our officers, making Marshalltown less safe.

This may be in our past. But it doesn’t have to be our future.

Of course, our department has worked and will continue to work with federal authorities to locate criminals and security threats. We have cooperated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for example, by taking part in the Priority Enforcement Program while it was in effect.

But it is in the federal government’s purview, not local law enforcement’s, to enforce federal immigration laws. Our police department does not have the funding or personnel to carry out enforcement actions for which federal authorities are best equipped.

We view the public as our partners in protecting Marshalltown. This partnership requires mutual respect and communication with all of our community, including immigrants and refugees.

These communities are crucial partners as I fulfill my calling to serve and protect my city.

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Michael Tupper is the Marshalltown police chief.