Law enforcement’s real battles

Pub date February 27, 2007
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION In order to be smart on crime, law enforcement needs to make important choices about where to focus our resources. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has been making poor choices, and those choices are hitting home in San Francisco.

Recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has conducted raids in San Francisco and around the Bay Area, rounding up immigrants at their jobs and schools, in some instances with ICE agents announcing themselves as police. These actions sow fear in the immigrant community among undocumented and documented residents alike.

The raids conducted in San Francisco present many of us in local law enforcement with a great concern. One of law enforcement’s biggest challenges to protecting crime victims in immigrant communities is encouraging them to come forward. Because immigrants are often afraid to report crimes, they can be regarded as easy targets for violent criminals and con artists.

We all suffer when crime victims are isolated from law enforcement. If victims and witnesses do not report crimes or cooperate with law enforcement, criminals remain on the streets, and all of us are put at risk. That is why my office is holding immigrant resource fairs in the Mission District and Chinatown to support immigrant rights and to make clear to community members that they are protected by San Francisco’s Sanctuary Ordinance and that my office will not report them to ICE when they come forward as witnesses or victims of crime. Rather than driving immigrants deeper into the shadows, we need to encourage those who have been victimized by crime to work with us to hold criminals accountable.

At the same time, the US Justice Department is walking down an ominous path by threatening journalists with prison time when they protect their confidential sources. In San Francisco the US attorney has held journalist Josh Wolf in prison since September 2006. Wolf should be released. For very good reasons, 31 states, including California, have shield laws upholding the rights of journalists to protect the secrecy of their sources and unpublished information. We need a federal shield law as well.

Of course, I believe crimes against police officers should be aggressively prosecuted. But I also believe that federal authorities have an obligation to respect the First Amendment. Free speech rights are critical to the work of journalists, university researchers, organized labor, and all of us in a democracy. The Justice Department should recognize the importance of protecting free speech, not only as constitutional and civil liberties issues but as smart public safety policy. Journalists play a key role in connecting us to individuals with information about crimes, and threatening the confidentiality of their sources has a chilling effect. If sources fear their confidentiality will not be protected, they will be less likely to come forward to journalists with information that could expose corruption or assist us in solving violent crimes.

Cities across the country are grappling with serious gang violence. Precious resources should be focused on addressing violence, gun crime, and major white-collar crime, not wasted on prosecuting journalists and conducting immigration raids that sweep up innocent residents, actions that hinder our efforts to build trusting relationships with vulnerable, victimized communities and keep the public safe. *

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris is the San Francisco district attorney.