An independent research organization focusing on policing issues highlighted the Madison Police Department as an example of building positive relationships with immigrant communities while also preserving communication with federal immigration authorities.
The Police Executive Research Forum pointed to the MPD and the Aurora Police Department in Colorado as models that local law enforcement agencies around the country can look to for guidance on expanding community policing efforts in immigrant communities.
“MPD’s community policing philosophy is evident in its innovative community policing initiatives at the patrol level, its dedicated outreach to Madison-area youths, and its collaboration with neighboring police departments, community leaders, and other government agencies,” the report states.
Among other initiatives, The group of about 15 Spanish-speaking police officers work with the Latino community to break down barriers and open lines of communication.
The officers monitor a dedicated phone line for Spanish-speaking residents to ask general questions about police matters and do outreach through Spanish-language media like the radio station La Movida.
“This dedicated group of officers really infuses themselves into the fabric of family life and interactions with children,” Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said in a statement.
Koval listed other ways Amigos en Azul — Spanish for friends in blue — build trust in the community, including by partnering with Centro Hispano, participating in neighborhood celebrations, creating a youth soccer program and mentoring kids through a summer academy program.
“Additionally, by having a monthly forum with La Movida and advocating for immigrants, we are doing our best to create a 'model' where the police can be trusted while also thanking our immigrant community for making Madison a more vibrant place where all are welcome!” Koval said.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she was struck by the comprehensive list of strategies the police department is employing.
"This is great recognition for the work that MPD is doing," Rhodes-Conway said. "The Police Executive Research Forum is a really well respected group nationally, and so it’s great that they have noticed the good work that is going on and are lifting it up as an example."
Rhodes-Conway said this work is increasingly important given the national political climate and the narrative around immigration being driven at the federal level.
"We’ve done a really specific push around immigrant communities because there's been this tension of immigrant enforcement at the federal level, and it's required law enforcement at the local level to push back and say, 'No that’s not us. Our community safety requires a positive relationship,'" Rhodes-Conway said.
Although the federal government is responsible for enforcing immigration laws, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) often partners with local law enforcement. This can lead to friction, especially during a time when immigration fears are amplified.
The MPD has had a longstanding standard operating procedure that says officers will not detain or arrest an individual solely for a suspected violation of federal immigration law.
Following a series of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump in 2017 that limited immigration and the rights of refugees, Koval created a new standard operating procedure to clearly state that immigration status is only relevant when someone has committed serious crimes directly related to public safety.
The policy also states that MPD will not enter into an agreement with ICE that would permit designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions because these agreements are inconsistent with the department’s community policing tenets.
In 2014, Koval and Assistant Chief Randy Gaber met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the ICE officials regarding immigration enforcement.
“We made it clear that MPD was not going to participate in workplace raids to look for undocumented individuals because that practice does not comport with our values,” Gaber said in the PERF report.
Now, a supervising agent from the ICE Milwaukee field office is supposed to notify the MPD’s assistant chief of support and community outreach when the federal agency conducts an operation within Madison city limits.
“If we know the circumstances in advance, we can put rumors to rest,” Gaber said. “ICE is not required to contact MPD, but we’ve developed this relationship based on cooperation and communication.”
Other best practices observed by the MPD include:
- Designating a department executive to serve as the single point of contact for all immigration matters
- Being transparent about the department’s immigration enforcement policy
- Establishing a dedicated outreach unit in the police department
- Increasing opportunities for youth engagement in a non-enforcement setting
- Incorporating community policing at the patrol level
- Providing flexibility in scheduling, so officers can attend community events
- Working cooperatively with neighboring police agencies
- Identifying community leaders who can serve as liaisons between the department and immigrant communities
- Partnering with local businesses and organizations to obtain additional resources and donated goods and services