Reprinted from Huffington Post
WASHINGTON— Jai Shankar is no longer wearing the ankle bracelet that had been tracking his every move since 2010.
Shankar was ordered to wear the bracelet after he did a good deed in 2009: He reported a crime to D.C. police officers. They ran his name through two law enforcement databases and found an outstanding immigration-related warrant. Shankar is from India and has lived in the United States for two decades, one of them illegally.
The warrant led to five months in jail. When he was let out, the Department of Homeland Security outfitted Shankar with an ankle bracelet and instigated deportation proceedings.
Last week, the department granted Shankar’s request for “deferred action.” That means for one year, it won’t pursue deportation proceedings against him and Shankar is eligible for work authorization.
But what about the next person reporting a crime? Under what circumstances, will D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department check that person’s name against the databases that led Shankar to an ankle bracelet? That’s still an open question.
This past winter, representatives for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s office and the police department told HuffPost that D.C. police officers regularly run the names of people who report crimes, even though doing so would seem to contradict the city’s longstanding “sanctuary” policy. Under that 1984 policy, D.C. police do not check an individual’s immigration status unless that information relates directly to a criminal investigation.
“It has been standard police operating procedure to run the name of every person who reports a crime for a warrant check,” mayoral spokeswoman Doxie McCoy wrote in an email in January. At the time, Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump confirmed McCoy’s statement, adding that such checks are not mandatory, however, and police have some discretion.
But this week, Crump told HuffPost by email, “Officers will run a criminal records check through the FBI’s NCIC [National Crime Information Center] database on an individual if, in the course of an investigation of an alleged crime, the circumstances of the situation should warrant that action.”
Crump provided no guidelines as to what would make a situation “warrant that action” under police department policy, except to say that in Shankar’s case, “It is my understanding that other individuals involved in the incident made cross allegations against the individual who initially called to report a crime; therefore, the responding officers ran the names of the involved individuals through the criminal records database.”
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which maintains a massive online database of D.C. police department orders and policies, obtained in response to a lawsuit. She said that in examining those documents, she hasn’t come across any policy statements or other directives that lay out the circumstances under which the police will run the name of a person reporting a crime.
“I can’t say it doesn’t exist, but I haven’t seen anything like that,” Verheyden-Hilliard said.
What she has come across is a 2003 policy directive that tells the police specifically not to run names through law enforcement databases except in “circumstances where they are already required,” she said.
The document, numbered CIR-03-12, is very clear:
NCIC database checks, NLETS [National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System] inquiries or other law enforcement database checks will not be made in circumstances where they are not already required under MPD policy for all individuals, regardless of national origin. In other words, officers are strictly prohibited from running database inquiries solely for the purpose of inquiring about immigrant status.
“Where is the policy mandating that there is a [database] check for all individuals who report crimes?” Verheyden-Hilliard asked. “I haven’t seen it. And we have the most comprehensive trove of MPD policies and orders. Either they have a policy, and someone should be held accountable for it. Or they don’t have a policy, and they’re just making it up as they go along.”
As for Shankar, he’s getting along a little better than he has for the last three years.
“It’s a victory, but it’s not the end of his problems,” Shankar’s lawyer, Sandra Grossman, told HuffPost. “All it does is defer the deportation order.”