New Sheriff Vicki Hennessy Plans Policy for Deputies to Communicate With ICE

Vicki Hennessy today said that after winning the race for San Francisco Sheriff one of her first orders of business will be to instruct sheriff’s deputies to communicate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on a case-by-case basis.

That instruction will replace a controversial directive by current Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who in March prohibited sheriff’s deputies from directly contacting federal immigration officials.

Mirkarimi’s memo was issued just one month prior to the release of Juan Francisco Sanchez-Lopez, a Mexican national, five-time deportee and convicted felon, who is now charged with murder in the July 1 fatal shooting of San Francisco resident Kate Steinle near the San Francisco Ferry Building.

Steinle’s death brought national attention to Mirkarimi’s policies and San Francisco’s Sanctuary City and Due Process for All ordinances, which were created to encourage communication and trust between undocumented immigrants and local law enforcement.

“Certainly the sanctuary policy will be different.” Hennessy said today of her plans for office. “I will allow communication in certain instances and I’m working on developing that policy.”

She said her policy would not target San Francisco’s “hardworking and law-abiding” undocumented immigrants, but would focus on “career criminals.”

In October, a San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ resolution urging Mirkarimi to rescind his memo, authored by Supervisor Mark Farrell, was tabled in a 6-5 vote.

Since Steinle’s death, city officials have been considering whether to participate in the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security program known as the Priority Enforcement Program, or PEP.

PEP enables federal immigration officials to work with state and local law enforcement and take custody of convicted criminals or individuals who pose a danger to public safety.

Hennessy today said she stands with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in their unanimously adopted resolution against PEP implementation.

“PEP is not the way I want to go,” Hennessy said. Hennessy said while PEP is better than DHS’ previous Secure Communities, or S-Comm program, she feels “it still allows a lot of latitude
for federal agents to make snap decisions on their own.”

She said PEP not only allows those with misdemeanor convictions to be picked up, but also requests law enforcement agencies to maintain custody of priority individuals for up to two days beyond the time when the individual would otherwise have been released from custody, which Hennessy said goes against the city’s Sanctuary City ordinance.

She said she’s starting to prepare for her new role as San Francisco’s first female sheriff and said she has received a “gracious” message from Mirkarimi asking her to work with him during their transition period.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has faced numerous controversies over the last year that Hennessy will need to tackle when she takes office in January.

Those controversies include an ongoing federal investigation into allegations that San Francisco sheriff’s deputies forced inmates to fight “gladiator-style,” as well as the disputed plans for construction of a new jail, which have garnered significant opposition from community groups who say they don’t want their tax dollars spent on incarceration.

Hennessy said that in light of the allegations against deputies, she’s hoping to get ombudspeople hired when she takes her post to be inside the jail and keep an eye on conduct between inmates and staff.

She said the fighting that took place on the seventh floor of the San Francisco Hall of Justice was in “a decrepit and horrible jail” that had old surveillance cameras. She hopes to replace with new surveillance cameras and ultimately replace the jail, which is seismically unsafe.

Hennessy said a new jail would hopefully be a place to accommodate those with mental health and substance abuse issues as well high-security individuals.

This week a committee of the California Board of State and Community Corrections recommended that San Francisco County receive $80 million for a standalone 384-bed rehabilitation and detention facility — a proposal that local activists say contradicts ongoing efforts to reduce mass incarceration.

San Francisco, along with 14 other California counties, was selected by the committee to receive a total of $500 million in jail construction financing.

Hennessy said she’s looking forward to tackling some of the department’s biggest issues, but said she’ll start off by simply appraising what works and what doesn’t.

“When you walk in you can’t just get a broom out and start sweeping, you have to take your time and assess everything carefully and make sure that you’re doing the right thing,” Hennessy said.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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