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LAPD's Special Order 40 on immigrants upheld by court [Updated]

June 17, 2009 |  4:51 pm

An appeals court Wednesday upheld the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order 40, a policy governing how officers interact with immigrants.

The three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal unanimously agreed with a lower court’s decision to throw out a lawsuit in which a Los Angeles man had argued that the LAPD’s policy violated federal and state laws.

In place since 1979, Special Order 40 prohibits LAPD officers from initiating contact with someone solely to determine whether they are in the country legally.

Police Chief Chief William J. Bratton and others before him have said the policy is an important tool, as it encourages undocumented immigrants who witness crimes to assist police without fear of being deported.

The judges rejected the claim of the plaintiff, Harold Sturgeon, that the order violates a federal statute, which prohibits restrictions on the exchange of information between federal immigration agents and other law enforcement officers.

They said he failed to show any instances in which officers had been punished by superiors or otherwise discouraged from passing on information.

The LAPD’s policy, the judges emphasized, does not place any limits on the information that officers can pass on to federal agents regarding a person’s immigration status.

[Updated at 5:09 p.m. “The decision today really affirms that if LAPD officers feel they need to maintain that trust with the community, that the law allows them to do that,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which represented community groups that are helped by the policy in the case.]

—Joel Rubin