'Community policing' article is indeed warranted


There is some confusion about the “community policing” article that is on the warrant in each town (March 29, “Is Island-wide warrant article on police policy warranted?”).

Some say it adds nothing, because the police already do this. At the request of the police chiefs, the language of this article actually affirms that it is “in keeping with current practices” and the Constitution. What the article adds is that it makes current police practice town policy. By making it town policy, rather than just “the way we do things,” we affirm local control. This is why it is not “redundant.”

One aspect of local control is much in the news now. The U.S. Constitution clearly separates federal powers from state and local powers. Among these clearly distinct powers is the enforcement of federal immigration law, which resides specifically with the federal government. However, in recent years there has been some encroachment on this separation of powers.

Inducements to change “the way we do things” could easily come by way of an expansion of 287(g) agreements. Section 287(g) of the Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 punts responsibility for enforcement of federal immigration law to local police. As other communities have learned, a 287(g) agreement is expensive for the town, and makes it less safe. Framingham is among towns that have withdrawn from a 287(g) agreement. Oak Bluffs’ Chief Erik Blake was quoted saying, “The federal government will entice police departments with money [to enforce 287(g)], but we’re not going to do it. The negative effect on the community and the loss of trust you’ve built up over years is just not worth it.” Bravo! This article supports you. It ensures that, no matter what inducements may come down the line, we’ve got your back.

News of federal threats and inducements elsewhere is having negative effects on the community already. There is tremendous fear among immigrants on the Island. These are people with essential roles in our Island economy. Their fear can be reduced by better understanding of police practices here, and by reassurance that those practices are not subject to unpredictable change because of political pressure from off-Island. They need to know that we’ve got their back.

These negative effects can be reduced as well by better understanding that these immigrants are not criminals. It is a crime to enter the country illegally. Immigration lawyers tell us that it is not a crime to overstay one’s visa after having entered legally. Many immigrants are concerned about their status, even though they entered the country legally.

This warrant article would not put any federal funding at risk. Period.

It is understandable that the police don’t want to be told what to do. Nobody does. But this article doesn’t tell them what to do. It says, “Keep doing what you’re doing. And if you come under pressure to change what you’re doing, we’ve got your back.” President John Adams famously said that we have a government of laws, not of men. This article holds the line for local control, no matter who is elected to town, county, state, or federal offices.

It’s understandable that the police might take this warrant article as an expression of mistrust. Listen to us: We like you. We like what you’re doing. Keep it up. Don’t change. If somebody tries to persuade you to change, we’ve got your back. Does that sound like mistrust?

There are strong reasons for you to pass this measure in your town. Support your police in their stand against any attempts to tell them what to do, especially any threats or inducements that might come from off-Island. We like our police and our communities the way they are, thank you very much.

Bruce Nevin