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Utah police policies vary on use of undocumented immigrants as informants
Crime » Utah police policies vary on using undocumented immigrants to build cases.

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In West Valley City, officers are allowed to analyze the effectiveness of undocumented immigrants on a case-by-case basis.

"It’s based on the totality of the circumstances," said Deputy Chief Mike Powell. "We always need to know who we’re dealing with. We’re not willing to work with someone we can’t positively ID or have the means in which we can positively identify them."

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Salt Lake City’s policy doesn’t forbid the use of undocumented immigrants, but officers may not inquire about anyone’s immigration status.

"It’s the wrong thing to do for local law enforcement," said Chief Chris Burbank. "Because when you start asking questions about status, you are talking to racial bias and profiling. There’s no two ways about it."

He said a department policy that forbids undocumented immigrants from serving as confidential informants might inadvertently insert bias into policing efforts.

And being in the country illegally is a civil violation, not a criminal one, Burbank noted.

"That is why Salt Lake City is not in the business of enforcing immigration laws," he said. "There is no crime of being undocumented."

He said focusing on an individual’s immigration status just "drives a wedge between the police and the community" when it comes to investigating crimes.

"Most [people] are hardworking individuals going to school or work," Burbank said. "If you’re going to treat them like criminals inappropriately, you’re going to alienate a whole bunch of people."

Defense attorney Joseph Jardine, with Jardine Law Offices, said confidential informants in general have been found to be "inherently unreliable." And using them can create other issues, such as if the informant is deported before a criminal case is resolved.

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"Often times they’re granted some type of temporary status here in order to testify against someone or else they’re deported after an indictment is handed down in the federal court or [after] a preliminary hearing [in Utah district court]," Jardine said. "You can’t find them any more after the damage is done" from their initial testimony.

But overall, Jardine said he doesn’t see a "huge issue" with using undocumented immigrants as long as police don’t rely solely on the information they’re providing.

"I just think law enforcement and the justice system in general need to verify their sources in an independent [manner]," he said.

jstecklein@sltrib.com Twitter @sltribjanelle

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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