San Bernardino County sheriff says deputies will not ask immigration status on the street

In a department address Thursday, San Bernardino County’s sheriff reaffirmed positions on two hot-button topics, saying deputies would enforce medical marijuana laws though he feels they’re “greatly flawed,” and only broach someone’s immigration status inside jails.

Rod Hoops delivered a wide-ranging state of the department address, his first since being appointed last February, to a roomful of county leaders and sheriff’s staff. A theme was cost-saving measures he has already taken, and ones still in the works.

That’s when he noted the cooperation with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, which recently resulted in a new three-year agreement to help identify illegal immigrants booked into county jails.

Officials have said the program helps cut the long-term cost of housing such suspects. Jail staff is trained to screen inmates for their immigration status, and if applicable, refer them to ICE for possible deportation.

“We will not target anyone from a specific country, and our department does not enforce immigration laws,” Hoops said, emphasizing that screenings only take place in jails, not in contact deputies have on the street.

A local immigration advocate said later that his longstanding worry with the program still exists: that it often results in the deportation of individuals arrested for relatively minor offenses.

“Continuing the agreement undermines the trust in the community,” Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Service Center, said later by phone. “It gives argument to people who say they’re afraid to come forward and report crimes.”

When Hoops addressed medical marijuana, he said deputies were committed to enforcing the law allowing those with county-issued cards to legally purchase the drug through nonprofit collectives, regardless of whether they agreed with it.

Still, he called the law “greatly flawed” in its allowance of dispensaries that seem to operate more like for-profit “pot shops” as opposed to collectives to serve patients with legitimate medical needs.

“The law never intended for people to get rich,” Hoops said, promising the county would not become like Los Angeles, which is attempting to control roughly 1,000 storefront dispensaries.

For the coming year, the sheriff said he will continue attempts at diversifying ranks, following the promotion of the first black deputy chief. The department will also soon transfer to a paperless reporting system and open a multiagency intelligence-sharing center.

In 2009, he said that the department returned $5 million to the county’s general fund, largely due to measures such as consolidating two desert patrol stations. He also found time to celebrate deputy achievements such as large-scale gang and drug cartel takedowns.

“As revenue continues to decline,” Hoops said, “it is more important than ever to be creative in the ways we do business.”

Reach Paul LaRocco at 951-368-9468 or plarocco@PE.com

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