SPD reports back on its mutual aid agremeents

Yesterday the Seattle Police Department submitted a report to Council member Lorena Gonzalez on its mutual aid agreements with other police departments in Washington state, and on how those are impacted by the city’s refusal to enforce federal immigration laws.

The report was mandated by the  “Welcoming city” resolution passed last month by the City Council. Here’s a longer background piece on mutual aid agreements.

Here’s what the report says:

  • First it reiterates its previous assertion: “The Seattle Police Department does not engage in immigration enforcement, has not entered into a Section 287(g) agreement, and will not enter into a Section 287(g) agreement.” Section 287(g) is a federal law that allows the Department of Homeland Security to authorize state and local jurisdictions to enforce federal immigration law; without such authorization, only federal law enforcement personnel can enforce those laws.
  • Seattle has signed a general form created by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs that grants “all general authority agencies in Washington State” to have police powers in Seattle to enforce criminal or traffic laws.
  • SPD provided a list of over 200 agencies with which it has reciprocal mutual aid agreements. That includes several federal agencies: ATF, DEA, the FBI, the Secret Service, the US Marshals, and most notably the US Border Patrol.
  • Seattle also has two “mutual aid agreements” jointly signed by several local jurisdictions: one for King County, the Cities of King County, and University of Washington; and another for the Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team involving Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, Renton, Seattle, Tukwila, and the Port of Seattle. Under the terms of those agreements, rendering aid is not mandatory and is at the discretion of the requested agency; it also may be withdrawn at any time during a mobilization. But any officers deployed become subject to the direction and laws of the requesting jurisdiction during the operation.
  • No jurisdictions in the state have signed a 287(g) agreement. Three have declared their intent not to enter into a 287(g) agreement: Seattle, Bellingham, and the State of Washington. None have declared an intent to enter into one, and the vast majority have not declared an intent either way.
  • SPD does not recommending denying any mutual aid to other jurisdictions that may choose in the future to enter into a 287(g) agreement, but it will be notifying all agencies with which it has a mutual aid agreement “that SPD will not provide mutual aid for immigration enforcement.”

Mainly this is good news for the City of Seattle: as things currently stand, SPD officers will not be asked to assist other cities or counties in the state in enforcing immigration law. But there are two issues worthy of further exploration:

  1. The general authorization Seattle extends to all the law enforcement agencies in the state covers “criminal or traffic laws.” That neither includes nor excludes immigration laws explicitly, so if another jurisdiction did sign a 287(g) agreement, it’s unclear whether it would have authority to enforce federal immigration laws here. According to SPD, the mutual aid agreements apply only to municipal and state law, so that would exclude federal immigration laws. But it might be worth further clarification.
  2. The city does have a reciprocal mutual aid agreement with the US Border Patrol (now called Customs and Border Protection) that has been in place since 2012.  It’s unclear what that would mean, if invoked in either direction. CBP advertises its role as “combining customs, immigration, border security, and agricultural protection into one coordinated and supportive activity.”  SPD is certainly expressing its intent not to enforce immigration law, and according to SPD it would decline any request to assist CBP in enforcing immigration laws. But CBP also enforces customs rules on import and export of goods, including agriculture, weapons and narcotics, so it’s possible that the mutual aid agreement might get invoked to assist with CBP activities other than immigration.

Expect this report to be a topic of a near-future meeting of Gonzalez’s Gender Equity, Safe Communities and New Americans Committee.

One comment

  1. Interesting post. I do worry that some council members might want to push for not having any agreement with CPB, which as you pointed out are tasked with enforcing a wide variety of laws. I also wonder if the term “immigration laws” has some issues. Are there certain immigration laws that SPD should be enforcing? I just don’t know enough about these laws to feel comfortable with blanket statements like these (unlike some council members).

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