OGDEN — Since Utah lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year allowing immigrants to become police for the first time, the Ogden Police Department has received a number of applicants.
Chief Eric Young sees the change as a means to help with recruitment of new officers, a big issue in many departments, including the Ogden Police Department. “We’re all in on using it to our benefit,” he said.
Amid calls by some for police forces more representative of the racial and ethnic makeup of their communities, Seth Cawley, who heads the Weber State University Police Department, also sees the change, outlined in Senate Bill 102, as a good thing. There were times in the past, he said, when immigrant applicants to the Weber State police force had to be turned back because they didn’t meet the prior requirement that officers in Utah be U.S. citizens.
“I think it’s a great idea. It provides us a diverse pool of people to select from,” Cawley said. At a place like Weber State, which aims to promote and embrace diversity, having a force reflective of the university community is important and reaching out to immigrants can help in that regard.
Lawmakers passed SB 102 earlier this year, motivated in part by guidelines at the federal level that let legal immigrants serve in the U.S. military. Immigrants can serve in the Army and other military branches, “so why can’t they be police officers?” said Utah Rep. Paul Ray, the Clearfield Republican who sponsored the legislation in the House.
Broadening the pool helps with recruitment and being able to recruit among immigrants can help diversify a police force, Ray said. Numerous departments in Utah, including Ogden’s, favored the change. The measure passed 65-4 in the Utah House and 27-0 in the Utah Senate. “People were really supportive,” Ray said.
In testimony before voting on the matter, Lt. Brian Baggs of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office noted the case of a friend, a Pacific islander, who wanted to become a police officer, but couldn’t because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen, at least when applying previously. “I think this is a great bill,” Baggs said.
Utah Sen. Karen Mayne, a West Valley City Democrat and the Senate sponsor, noted during testimony on the measure earlier this year that the change would apply to people who may be seeking citizenship, but just haven’t completed the process. “They just can’t put everything together to become a citizen. It takes a long time,” she said.
Notably, immigrants with status to be in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, don’t appear to fit the parameters of SB 102. The Utah change says immigrants covered must be lawful residents in the United States and have legal authorization to work here. They face background checks, like all officer candidates, and also have to have been in the country legally for at least five years.
The federal DACA program, though, is geared chiefly to undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally as children by their parents. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says DACA recipients are “not considered to be unlawfully present.” Deferred action, says the USCIS website, “does not confer lawful status upon an individual, nor does it excuse any previous or subsequent periods of unlawful presence.”
WON’T BE A PANACEAIn Ogden, officials have been pushing to diversify the police force and bolster its numbers. The police department is considered fully staffed with 145 sworn officers, but the actual count typically hovers 10 to 15 below that, according to Young.
So far, no Black officers serve in the department notwithstanding the diversification efforts, and while SB 102 could theoretically aid in recruiting Latino officers, Young said several Spanish speakers already serve on the force. Latinos make up about a third of Ogden’s population, with immigrants, legal and otherwise, counting among the segment. SB 102 is “not going to be a panacea,” Young said, resolving the department’s staffing woes.
But it can help. The Ogden Police Department already had immigrant recruits in mind when SB 102 passed and, after it was approved, department reps reached out to them, leading to the pending applicants. The department is “absolutely interested” in getting qualified immigrants on the force, Young said.