Cobb police chief on immigration law: ‘We deal with crime, not status’
by Jon Gillooly
December 14, 2012 12:46 AM | 5252 views | 34 34 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chief John Houser
Chief John Houser
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MARIETTA — In light of the federal court ruling this week saying Georgia law enforcement authorities may check the immigration status of criminal suspects who fail to produce proper identification, the Journal sat down with Cobb County Police Chief John Houser on Thursday to learn how he intends to implement the new law.

MDJ: What differences will we see with this new law?

Houser: We have had discretionary powers in the past to inquire with federal agencies on immigration status, so if we would run a person in a database and get an immigration hold, the officers did have the discretionary power to either call or have our 911 Center call those agencies, (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) or whoever the hold is with, to get a determination from them on the status of the hold and any direction on what they would like us to do with that person. … 

In (House Bill 87), they’re saying in a case where there’s probable cause where a person has committed a crime and if they don’t have identification as described within that bill, then the officer has the discretion to do certain things.

Q: You already had that power?

A: We had, and House Bill 87 defines in this particular situation when an officer can use that discretionary authority. … One of the things that House Bill 87 does do is it specifically tells law enforcement that on the occasion when a person is either reporting a crime, the witness of a crime or the victim of a crime, an immigration investigation at that point is inappropriate. In the past, law enforcement agencies, there was nothing telling law enforcement that if somebody was a victim or the witness of a crime and came forward, the law enforcement agency could look at their immigration status — even though in the Cobb County Police Department, our focus would be on that crime, not particularly somebody’s legal status. …

We want people to know this bill provides some protection from those that are either witnessing, reporting, or are the victim of a crime, and that is one of the major differences here that we see in this bill.

Q: Say I’m an illegal alien and you stop me for speeding. What’s the protocol? When would you ask about my immigration status? Or would you?

A: We would not. You would have to not have any identification (for that question).

Q: But even legal residents are required to have a driver’s license?

A: Your driving is a privilege, so the law says you have to have your driver’s license with you. We do know people drive without a licenses. So as we would with anybody, we’re going to run Jon Gillooly to make sure he is authorized to be driving that car. In a case where we ran Jon Gillooly and he came back where there was an immigration hold, that’s where we would make an inquiry, and it would strictly be an inquiry to whoever has placed that hold.

Q: What is an immigration hold?

A: There may be an ICE hold on somebody. Our officer is not going to come up and ask Jon Gillooly about his immigration status. It would typically be when a person is run in a certain database — you might have a warrant against you, a bench warrant for whatever. Let’s say there’s a bench warrant against you for failure to pay your child support and you didn’t go to court. Whether it’s that case or an immigration warrant, whoever the law enforcement entity that’s put that hold out there, we will make a follow-up inquiry. You could have a felony warrant on you for burglary in another county in this state, but that county might say we’re not going to extradite. On an immigration hold, it may say ‘yes, there is a hold on Jon Gillooly,’ but it would be somebody giving us direction. Typically we’re not making an arrest strictly on a hold on an immigration issue.

If you don’t have a driver’s license and you’re driving down I-75, we might arrest you and make a custodial arrest because you’re driving without a license. The custodial arrest is made. You’re turned over to the Sheriff, and whatever protocols they have in place that is when they follow their procedures. They’re the ones that are working hand-in-hand with ICE, and we’re out there in the field just doing our thing, whether it’s traffic enforcement or responding to 911 calls … It’s only those situations where there is probable cause that you’ve committed a crime and then we’re going to run you to make sure there is no other holds or warrants, and that’s when it becomes an immigration issue if there is a hold.

Q: How is the Cobb Police Department’s relationship with the Cobb Latino community? Is it a good one?

A: I believe it is. I think in some cultures there is a natural distrust of law enforcement. It’s something that we have to overcome. … When laws like this are enacted, even though there may be certain things in there that are protecting them, there’s always cause for concern, so education on this is very important.

Q: Critics of HB 87 believe it will create “widespread fear” among people afraid of being profiled. Do you foresee it causing fear in the Latino community?

A: I don’t think it will particularly in Cobb County. I understand how a certain element of the community when a bill comes out like this that talks about discretionary authority to law enforcement to conduct immigration investigations, that in itself can cause a certain amount of fear. … We need to let them know under what circumstances we would do this, and I think we need to ensure that the public knows there is an element in this bill that didn’t exist before that exempts law enforcement from conducting immigration investigations when someone is victimized or reporting a crime or witnessing a crime.

So I will tell you that typically as far as the Cobb County Police Department in matters like this, and this bill specifically says when you have probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime, typically our interest is in the investigation of that crime at hand, and if there is a custodial arrest, generally we make the arrest based on that situation, and if there is any follow-up on any immigration issues, that is left up to the Sheriff’s Department within their 287(g) program.

Typically when a Cobb County police officer is involved in any kind of follow-up on an immigration issue, it’s based on some sort of database that is returning to us telling us there is a warrant on a particular individual. Any time that we find that there is a warrant, whether it be an immigration warrant or a warrant for any criminal act, we’re going to follow up to see if the warrant is valid, and an immigration situation typically is contacting a federal agency to get any direction they may have of how they would like to handle this. Just because there is an immigration hit doesn’t mean we’re going to take a person in custody for that. …

We’re not out there conducting immigration investigations on the side of the road. We are dealing with someone dialing 911, the Cobb County Police Department’s coming, if there’s a crime to be investigated, we’re investigating that crime, and if we have probable cause that that person has committed a crime and has a custodial arrest, then the Sheriff has certain things in place that they do to deal with ICE issues.

Q: What do you say to the critics of the law who claim this is going to let police engage in profiling?

A: We have policies in place that strictly prohibit bias-based profiling. Those policies existed. We take them very seriously, and we will continue to enforce any violations of the policy.

Q: Do you anticipate a rise in deportations in Cobb County as a result of this new law? 

A: I do not.

Q: Do you see this new law greatly impacting your operations? Why or why not?

A: I do not. … We’ve had that discretionary authority in the past. We typically don’t get involved in immigration investigations — that is done by a federal entity.

Q: So is the headline “Chief believes new law not to greatly impact Cobb police operations?”

A: It would not have a great impact on any operational manner. We will conduct training. (Capt. B.S. Batterton, academy director at the Cobb Department of Public Safety Training Center) is putting that together. We will provide information to all of our officers based on what is in the new law giving them direction specially on the issues in House Bill 87, letting them know that what this law specifically states. When they have probable cause that somebody’s committed a crime and when they don’t have as identification — and it’s defined in the law what types of identification is acceptable — then they have the discretionary power to do certain things, so all the things in the law will be spelled out to them.

It will also be spelled out to them those things that they shall not do … When somebody wants to report, is a witness of or is a victim of a crime, it is the policy of the Cobb County Police Department, we will deal with specifically the issues of that crime and not that person’s immigration status.

Q: Do you see illegal immigration as a problem for our county? Is it a challenge? Is it an issue at all?

A: The immigration issues are investigated by federal authorities. We typically don’t get involved. We work side-by-side with the federal authorities, but … we’re not primary when it comes to immigration issues. Our focus is responding to the needs of the community and particularly those individuals, it’s a concern of us if individuals either witness or are the victim of a crime that they have the comfort level to come forward and work with us so we can make this a better place to live and work.

Q: It seems you’re caught between the political left, which is complaining about profiling, and the political right, which is complaining you’re not doing enough because of political correctness. Does it feel like you’re in a straitjacket?

A: Not really. I mean, nobody ever said law enforcement was easy. We have laws that we’re required to enforce. House Bill 87 gives a certain discretionary authority for us to do certain things. So we have to balance what we do. It’s our job to maintain the quality of life in Cobb County. I think that our officers do an outstanding job of that, and any time that there’s a new law like this, you’re going to have a certain element in the community that has a concern.

Q: When will the training be completed?

A: Because this has been on-going, we already have a draft, so we’re ready to put this out. I think it will be a matter of a few days where we’ll start putting information out to our officers.
Comments
(34)
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Joel Wischkaemper
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December 18, 2012
Isla Bonita presents a very bigoted position all by himself. Illegal aliens are criminals in our society with at least one felony and while most don't fully understand what is meant by that, they need to look at Senator Menendiz's efforts to hire a the young man who is a far more serious criminal. Menendiz tells us he could not identify the man.. and hired him. The law is clear.. many of us want it enforced and in fact, want the enforcement after rather shabby experiences with the illegal aliens.

But this is important: the President is charged with enforcing the laws of the land. He refuses to enforce the Immigration Law. When Chief Houser took HIS oath of office, he also swore to uphold the Constitution and enforce the laws of the land.
A Taxpayer
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December 17, 2012
If it's illegal, it's a crime. If you are here illegally, you are a criminal. The reason the police force exists is is to arrest criminals. If Houser isn't directing his officers to arrest criminals, maybe he should resign. He's not fit for the position.
IslaBonita
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December 17, 2012
Wow! I can see that a many ignorant people in Cobb County have made this commentary section a sounding board for their bigotry. Hmmmm... How can anyone tell with certainty that those people that were killed or had any wrong-doing done to them by supposedly so called "illegal alliens" ,were not going to have the same fate at the hands of an "American"? Because it is "a fact" that the vast majority of the so called "illegal alliens" DO NOT commit crimes. And to the one on this section quoting "chapter and verse" of the "law code" I ask, what "law code" do you refer to? Criminal? Because being present in the country without the proper documentation IS NOT anywhere to be found in the "criminal" law code. It is a matter of civil law, so yeah, they may be braking civil law, "not criminal" law. And just because something is a "federal offense", it is not necessarily a "criminal" offense". Besides, it has been my observation through the many years living in Georgia, that good parts of this society is very obsessive, in many areas, being the undocumented immigrants issue one of those "persistent" obsessions. I truly believe that it is a type of mental health issue with many here.......
Get Over It
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December 16, 2012
Don't beat up Chief Houser for trying to manage a situation that is not of his making. The guy has a job to do and must act within the constraints of the law and right now the law is not clear on either side. If you have a bone to pick with anyone, call your state and local reps and give them your feedback. In the meantime, don't pick on this guy because he is trying to navigate a situation that is muddled no matter which side you think is right.

Also, while we are being honest here, let's not assume that Hispanics are the root of all evil or that they are all here illegally. A few of you are under the impression that they are all criminals or that if they suddenly vanished all that is bad in society would go with them. Think again. The majority are hard working, here legally, and simply are trying to provide a better life for themselves and their families. What is more, there is a work ethic there that has vanished in many communities. Must we always look at the negative and assume that it is the whole story.
Watcher...
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December 15, 2012
Who sets Immigration policy in Cobb County?

I do not believe that Chief Houser has that authority!
mk- $$$$$$$talks!
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December 16, 2012
Looks like what we are is a 'banana republic', a politically unstable country(county) ruled by a small, self-elected, wealthy, corrupt, politico, economic clique!

The DOT sets immigration policy in Cobb.

Which ever company is awarded 1 BILLION for toll lanes along 75/575 will certainly need their cheap labor!

As long as they keep the barrios hidden away in SOUTH Cobb,.. who will be the wiser??

How else do you make a 'profit' w/ a measly cool BILLION??
What do Tim Lee say?
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December 15, 2012
MexiCobb? - actually, this would NEVER happen in Mexico!

This guy seems to have been intimidated by the 3 people Rich Pellegrino has scraped out of the loony bin to holler "racism" at the police every 20 minutes.

I agree with the posters here. Because of this policy there will be blood. Americans are killed every day by the illegal aliens. It is only a matter of time, today, tomorrow, next year - before one of the illegals a Cobb Police officer has been told to let go on the street kills someone later on. The blood will be a result of this policy.

A Cobb sheriff deputy Loren Lilly has already died because of illegals and D.A. King has a website dedicated to a 16 yr old boy Dustin Inman who was killed by an illegal alien.

This revelation is nuts and a danger to Cobb. I want to know why Tim Lee isn't speaking up!
he say...
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December 16, 2012
..great job,..Houser, man....do whatever you want, so long as you keep 'em out of EAST Cobb, the only part of Cobb that really matters!
BoBo LA
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December 14, 2012
This Chief of police should decide if he is in California ( we have already ost) or the USA. This is exactly how it started here. Ask him, what next?
Just Wait
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December 14, 2012
I am as anti illegal alien as everyone else posting here. However, I do not want our police officers sitting on the side of the road for an hour or more while waiting to determine anyone's "status" in this country. If they do not have a drivers license, they do go to jail and then the Sheriff can take all the time he needs to make that determination. It's called resource allocation. The only other solution is a huge tax increase to hire more police officers so they can have time to wait, and wait, and wait.
Never will get it
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December 14, 2012
I will never get why we are expected to educate the children, make sure the families have dental and medical care and just ignore the fact that they are costing us millions! And then, if they commit a crime, everyone has to jump through hoops! What would happen if the taxpayers, (you know, us) just said we weren't putting up with it anymore?Do people have any remote idea of what the cost to the school system is? Does anyone care? It is ridiculous. And by the way, a teacher can spend countless hours helping an illegal, only to have them disappear suddenly, never to be heard from again.

Dr. dr
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December 14, 2012
Message: The illegal aliens have nothing to fear from Cobb Police. This is crazy.
Real Problem
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December 14, 2012
The real problem isn't police whether the police won't make an arrest during a traffic stop. The person is always going to be arrested if unlicensed.

The real probem is that Georgia allows illegal immagrants to register cars and get insurance on vehicles. Further doesn't punish the registered owners for loaning their vehicles to illegal immigrants and upon getting in accidents, either non-DUI or DUI then our insurance rates go up.

I'm not even going to mentioning the drug trade.
West Cobb Farmer
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December 14, 2012
Cobb police chief on immigration law: ‘We deal with crime, not status’

Chief Houser...being in this country illegally is in fact a crime. It is not a "Status" it is against the law. If you're in this country without proper documentation then you are breaking the law. It makes no difference what the politically correct crowd think, it makes no difference what the political activists think, and it makes no difference what the folks with an over active, anglo-saxon sense of decency think it is against the law to be here illegally.
levotb
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December 14, 2012
West Cobb Farmer, you're absolutely correct! Breaking into the U.S. or overstaying one's visa makes one a Federal criminal. Title 8 Sec. 1325 of the US Code says so. Chief Houser is avoiding the issue by kicking it back to the Feds (saying illegal immigration "is a Federal issue"). That is WRONG! It's very much A LOCAL ISSUE! Women and children are being raped and murdered by illegals. Illegals are killing us on our roads and freeways. They're also raping teens of their countrymen in festivals called "quinceneras"! 15-year-old Mexican girls are having to promise themselves to grown men which by our state laws is statutory rape. Yet that's their custom. Doesn't Chief Houser know this? No, Chief, illegal immigration IS NOT strictly a Federal issue--it's a LOCAL issue that effects ALL of us!
David F
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December 14, 2012
He is just like the President , picking what laws get enforced and what ones don't. He job is to enforce ALL laws, if he does not, he needs to be FIRED, and get someone who will.

The cost to GA, for Illegals is in the Billions each year. Simple HR 87 give him the tools needed, the people of Cobb County should be outraged of his lack of concern over this..
Watcher...
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December 14, 2012
Chief Houser is spending too much time listening to Rich Pellegrino, Jerry Gonzalez and their minions.

He might spend some time with Cobb Taxpayers who will not allow Cobb County to become a Illegal Sanctuary.

Illegals kill
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December 14, 2012
Everyone, including this officer and the commissioners should save this article to read again the next time an American is killed by an illegal alien here in Cobb county. This is a policy that results from continued screams from race-baiting illegals and nutballs like Rich Pellegrino.

We need a new Chief. One who makes it clear that illegals should be terrified in Cobb County. Maybe we can import a Chief from Mexico, where they aren't afraid to use the law.
Dakota Sioux
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December 14, 2012
So, the Marietta Police have agood relationship with the Latino (illegal, criminal, alien) community. Is that at the expense of the safety of the Law abiding citizen and legal immigrant residents of the city of Marietta, and the resident of greater Cobb County and Noarth Georgia.

Fire this idiot!!
Old Man
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December 14, 2012
You might try reading the article again - doesn't have anything to do with MARIETTA Police. The first clue is the constant use of the words COBB POLICE.
ZOO001
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December 14, 2012
If I read this correctly, if you give them an inch they will take a mile. So someone can be pulled over for speeding and has no driver's license, and if there is not a "immigration hold", then the violator walks? Is Houser's department waiting for an illegal to kill someone with their car before they will take action? It sounds like Georgia needs to go back to the drawing board. It seems they have left a loophole allowing total "discretion" by street cops. All this does is embolden illegal aliens on the chance they can run amok without any fear of being caught.

In Arizona, Phoenix police officers under a pro-illegal Phoenix mayor(s) would always look the other way. That is why SB 1070 made checking immigration status mandatory should the suspicion arise - no license, no insurance, no I.D.
Incorrect Sir
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December 14, 2012
99.9% of the time Cobb County Police does arrest for driving without a valid license, just like driving on a suspended licnese. The unlicensed person is then transported to Cobb County Adult Detention Center, where the Cobb Sheriff uses 287g program and the feds decide whether to deport or to give bond.

He is simply saying the same procedure is followed as it had been before. This new law has changed very little if anything in Cobb County. Cobb has had the 287g program for years through the Sheriffs Department.
Richard Pellegrino
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December 14, 2012
Thank you Chief Houser...well said!
Dakota Sioux
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December 14, 2012
If you like these illegal, criminal, aliens so much-- move to mexico or any other county the criminal aliens have fled from to live here in Norht Georgai.
Richard Pellegrino
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December 14, 2012
Ha Dakota Sioux (are you really Sioux; I doubt it):

When you mean criminal, illegal aliens, do you mean all of us white folk who pretend this is our country? :-) The reason I know you are not Native American is because if you were you would know two things:

1) The way of the People is thankfulness and gratitude...not blame and name calling. (I know, I have lived on the Reservations and learned great lessons from The People, and have close Sioux friends and mentors.)

2) The so called illegal aliens you refer to: many are mixed native american....hmmmm...who should be showing whom their papers :-)

Reports illegals
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December 15, 2012
What's your legal status Pellegrino?

You have no respect for the law! And you are part of the problem!
A Taxpayer
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December 14, 2012
That was some great tap-dancing, Chief Houser. Can we get these unlicensed illegals off the road now please?
Richard Pellegrino
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December 14, 2012
Don't worry...very soon they will be licensed again (for those who forget...they used to be licensed before those brain surgeons at the capitol decided to take away their licenses.)
Pat H
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December 14, 2012
Chief, you failed to answer the question if illegal immigration is a problem for our county. Perhaps you forgot all the deaths on our roads, including a Sheriff's Deputy who was just driving to work, from drunken illegals. Perhaps you forgot about the meth labs, the tons of drugs coming to stash houses here, or the propensity for sexual abuse of minors. Perhaps you forgot about the human smuggling trafficking.

I'm thinking maybe you forgot about the destruction of many neighborhoods from the influx of illegals, the extra resources needed in our schools to try to educate the many children whose parents do not even value education, and the crushing demand for free non-emergency services at our Emergency Rooms where paying sick legal residents have to wait many hours to have their necessary emergency needs.

Maybe hit and runs do not mean much to you, but for those of us who have had to pay the damage it is a big problem.

Your officers should NOT have the discretion whether to check the database or not. They should be required to do so, even for minor infractions. Enforce the law equally - citizens do not get a pass for driving infractions and neither should illegal aliens.
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