The head of the Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday warned of a "strong correlation" between dramatic drops in violent crimes being reported by Hispanics in Los Angeles and fears of being deported, suggesting that the community may be avoiding contact with local law enforcement in the wake of immigration polices favored by the Trump administration.
Newly-released LAPD crime statistics for 2017 show that among Hispanics, reports of rape have dropped 25 percent while those of spousal abuse have decreased by 9.8 percent. Similar reductions from the start of this year were not found in any other ethnic group, according to the LAPD numbers.
"Imagine your sister, your mother, not reporting a sexual assault for fear that their family will be torn apart," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told reporters on Tuesday.
With a large Hispanic population, Los Angeles has been one of several large U.S. municipalities to have resisted new federal immigration policies under President Trump, who has promised to toughen laws against the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.
Police in California's largest cities have long warned of the difficulties of local officials enforcing federal immigration laws, partly because such enforcement could drive large immigrant populations into hiding and be fearful of reporting crimes, which could result in higher crime rates overall.
Speaking Tuesday, Beck said that immigrant populations should not have to fear the police.
"In L.A. we don't care what color your skin is, where your parents come from or what language you speak," he said. "We are your police department."
In February, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city leaders sent Immigration and Customs Enforcement a letter asking that federal immigration agents stop identifying themselves as "police" while going after undocumented immigrants. They argued the practice makes the immigrant population fearful of police and potentially afraid to report crimes due to deportation fears if exposed as illegal immigrants. The authorities said in some cases a victim might be legal but be worried that calling the police could lead to a loved one being deported.
For its part, ICE has argued it uses "police" because it’s an internationally recognized term for law enforcement understood in any language.
The LAPD has long had a policy of not asking about the immigration status of individuals who come into contact with its officers.
On Tuesday, Garcetti signed an executive directive expanding that policy to Los Angeles Airport Police, Harbor Police and the Los Angeles Fire Department.
"We believe that many local families are keeping their kids home or backing off of engaging with our law enforcement officials and our public safety officials because they're afraid of what they believe could happen," said Garcetti.