Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cracking Down on Criminals in the Ocean State

Protecting Rhode Island families is my highest priority as your Attorney General. We have taken a strong step towards enhancing the safety of our neighborhoods by signing onto the federal Secure Communities program.

According to the latest data provided by the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Custom Enforcement, Rhode Island is now included among the 986 jurisdictions in 39 states that have signed up for this program, which is aimed at keeping criminals off our streets. Secure Communities is an effective law enforcement tool that will improve communication between local, state and federal law enforcement – helping us overcome challenges in our public safety network by enhancing the ability to share critical information.

Currently, when someone is arrested and fingerprinted for committing a crime, a local law enforcement agency sends those fingerprints to the FBI for a criminal background check. With the implementation of Secure Communities, federal authorities will also run the fingerprints through the Department of Homeland Security database to check against immigration and law enforcement records.

If a person is determined to have been previously convicted of a crime and is in the country illegally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement decides whether deportation is in order, given the severity of the crime and the suspect's criminal history. The more dangerous the person is deemed to be, the more likely that person will be a priority for immigration enforcement action.

Just as having access to the FBI database revolutionized information sharing among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, Secure Communities will continue to improve communication and cooperation with our federal law enforcement partners.  Since the inception of Secure Communities in October 2008, ICE states that immigration officers have removed more than 58,000 illegal immigrants convicted of a serious crime – which includes murderers, sexual predators, thieves and other violent offenders.

Keeping rapists, murderers and other criminals out of our communities will not only make our streets safer, it will also reduce the number of incarcerations in Rhode Island – and according to the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, it costs $41,093 annually to keep someone imprisoned.

The Department of Homeland Security, with the support of President Obama, intends to employ Secure Communities across the nation by 2013. With the program, there is no change or added cost to state and local law enforcement’s current daily operations; their role is to continue to enforce state and local law as currently practiced. Secure Communities just adds another level of security screening when offenders are arrested for committing crimes.

Local law enforcement does not take a federal immigration enforcement role with Secure Communities. In fact, Secure Communities does not authorize or permit state and local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law – ICE retains authority.

My job as Attorney General is to protect Rhode Island citizens and our communities, and to provide law enforcement with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.  Secure Communities simply gives our law enforcement agencies another tool; in essence, an improved database.  Anytime law enforcement has greater access to information that will help identify individuals in custody, it helps them do their job of keeping our citizens and communities safe. 

With this issue and others, there are naysayers – those who disagree with the program without a clear understanding of its purpose and how it functions. However, this initiative is aimed at keeping criminals off the street and cracking down on those who break the law. I am confident that Secure Communities will help protect Rhode Islanders – helping to move our state towards a safer and more secure future.

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin