While Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell assured the public that his department had scaled back its cooperation with federal immigration agents, ICE agents continued to use offices in county jails and jail personnel helped them access information, according to a watchdog agency report available Tuesday.

Inspector General Max Huntsman said the relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and some communities was already strained when the Trump administration moved to ramp up immigration enforcement.

“It is critical that the department make maintaining trust a high priority,” stated the report — released Sunday by the Office of Inspector General. “The public needs accurate and unbiased information … and the (department) needs the public’s confidence that law enforcement is always a source of that information.”

McDonnell’s department failed to meet that standard, the report concluded.

Despite LASD assurances that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had vacated offices in county jails and computers hard-wired to federal databases had been removed, visiting OIG staffers found ICE agents working at the downtown Inmate Reception Center. In the same office long occupied by federal agents, there were five computers linked to federal databases along with an LASD computer which offered “a constant flow of information regarding prisoners who were soon to be released,” according to the OIG’s report.

LASD officials said the computers were reinstalled after ICE agents complained of poor internet connectivity on their laptops. The desktop computers were removed once again when the OIG shared its findings.

The department had also said it no longer shared information with ICE agents on inmates set for release, forcing federal officials to dig through public data to find what they wanted.

Pushing back against a Los Angeles Times story on the topic in July, the department took to Twitter, tweeting, “LASD does NOT provide release info to #ICE. Our public website has ALL inmate release dates. It’s up to #ICE to vet the data.”

Yet the OIG report found that jail personnel often passed along nonpublic information that made it easier for agents to know just when to pick up inmates.

Responding to Huntsman by letter, McDonnell said he agreed with the report’s findings.

“We prioritize maintaining and increasing public trust and always endeavor to provide the public with accurate information,” McDonnell said.

Seeking to clarify earlier statements, McDonnell said the department used to provide ICE agents with seven-day advance notice of inmates’ release and that practice was ended early this year. Beginning in February, information on inmate releases was made public and pending release dates were added to that public website in May.

“It would have been more accurate to state that we believed we were not providing ICE with more information than we were providing to the public,” the sheriff said.

McDonnell acknowledged that at some point jail personnel began sharing screenshots with additional nonpublic data with ICE agents. He said that flow of information has since been shut down.

The sheriff noted that the department restricts its cooperation with federal officials more than the law requires it to and highlighted outreach to immigrant communities to try and clarify policies and develop trust.

One measure of that trust is that the LASD has certified 90 percent of U-visa applications submitted by immigration rights advocates this year, even as the number of those applications has nearly doubled from two years earlier. U-visas are issued to victims of crime who cooperate with law enforcement officials prosecuting the crime.

-City News Service

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