Police chiefs defend SROs, anti-gang work | AspenTimes.com

Police chiefs defend SROs, anti-gang work

John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Immigration enforcement is not the job of local police departments, and would be an inappropriate focus for individual police officers working as school resource officers (SROs), police chiefs from three area communities emphasized Monday.

“I want to make it perfectly clear that kids in our schools have nothing to fear from the SROs, and they have nothing to fear from ICE,” Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said during a joint press conference with Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling and Basalt Chief Roderick O’Connor.

The chiefs called the press conference to counter allegations by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) that SROs working in Roaring Fork District Re-1 schools may have provided information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials about the immigration status of students and their families.

“Nothing in their work is aimed at immigration … never has been, never will be, period,” Wilson said. “That is way outside the scope of this program.”

Rather, any work local police do in cooperation with ICE agents through the Safe Communities Program anti-gang task force is aimed at criminal activity, he said.

Representatives from CIRC also showed up at the Glenwood Springs Police Department where the press conference was held, but were denied access.

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The organization issued a press release saying it stands behind the police chiefs and the Re-1 school board in supporting the SRO program. But a policy should be in place distancing SROs from working directly with ICE, the group said.

“The primary mission of [ICE] is the enforcement of federal immigration laws,” the group said. “When many of the students the SRO is working with to build trust are immigrant and Latino, these missions are at odds.”

Chief Schilling of Carbondale, where CIRC’s allegations have been focused, said any relationship his or any other SRO may have with ICE has been misrepresented by CIRC.

“None of us consider being undocumented a criminal act,” Schilling said, calling immigration a federal concern, not that of local police departments. “Our work is totally and completely separate.”

That’s not to say any criminal arrests resulting from that collaboration involving drug activity, assaults or other crimes haven’t led to persons being detained or deported by ICE, Schilling also said.

“We only enforce the law,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who the person is or where they’re from, and it’s not a race thing.”

Schilling called allegations of racial profiling specifically directed at Carbondale SRO Alvaro Agon “absolutely false.”

CIRC, along with one of its local student member organizations, Asociacion de Jovenes Unidos en Accion (AJUA), has questioned Agon’s previous dual role as an SRO and liaison with ICE.

That relationship, they allege, has crossed the line into identifying undocumented immigrants, according to more than two dozen written testimonies the groups have compiled.

Agon, through his attorney Tom Adgate, has denied the allegations and has threatened a defamation of character lawsuit against CIRC.

Schilling and fellow chief O’Connor of Basalt suspect the allegations are coming from those who would prefer the police back off from their criminal investigations.

“These are people who have had consequences as a result of crimes, and they don’t like it,” Schilling said. “They’re using their children to try to intimidate us.”

Added O’Connor, “There is a criminal element that would love for us to go away.

“We always hear, ‘Oh, he’s a great family man, why are you doing this?'” O’Connor said. “Well, being a great family man doesn’t trump the crime.”

Local CIRC board member Edgar Niebla said after the press conference that his organization wishes to take the focus off Officer Agon and direct it at drafting a policy regarding the SROs.

The group is hosting a public forum at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at The Orchard Church in Carbondale to discuss the issue.

“This will be a tremendous opportunity for all stakeholders to learn about each other’s interests and to engage in a constructive dialogue,” stated CIRC’s Monday press release. “AJUA and CIRC have been doing everything in our power to raise this issue in a direct and cooperative manner.”

jstroud@postindependent.com