Sedona Police Chief David McGill’s message is clear — he and his staff are there to protect everyone in the community regardless of one’s immigration status.
Under President Donald Trump’s administration, immigration has come to the forefront, especially in those states bordering Mexico. With it has come misconceptions and false information. Many in the Hispanic community are fearful that local police departments will come through their neighborhoods searching for those who are here illegally.
Not true, says McGill. During his first four months on the job, he’s received several calls from people on behalf of the local immigrant community who were expressing fears that with the new administration, the local police department will be an arm of the federal government. They’re also concerned things will return to the days where large immigration sweeps were common.
“Somehow I need to get the word out to our immigrant folks as to where we stand as a police department and where I stand in terms of the leader of this police department,” he said. “It’s a very complicated issue with many facets. We operate in a bit of a gray zone and often walk a tightrope in terms of immigration. On one hand we’re charged with our primary duty and that’s to keep the entire community safe. The community is made of lots of people and how they got here is mildly of interest to me. I don’t care. On the other hand, I’m sworn by oath to uphold the laws of the land — city, state and the federal.”
Even as a longtime officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, he said they never dealt with immigration issues unless they would partner at the request of a county or federal agency.
“Whether it’s Los Angeles or Sedona, we need to keep the community safe and we need the public to help us do that because we can’t do it alone,” he said. “I need all folks in our community to have that level of trust with their local law enforcement. When they call, we’re going to come and try and solve the issue at hand and not be so concerned with where they came from or what their citizenship status is.”
If a crime is committed, an arrest will be made, he said. If the person is here illegally, there is a chance that they will be deported but that’s not up to McGill or his staff.
He said with a limited number of officers, he needs them patrolling the streets of Sedona — not asking everyone they come into contact with about their immigration status. The bottom line is, if you’re a law-abiding resident, you should not fear the police, he said
But that’s not always the case.
“The fear is palpable,” he said. “People in our immigrant community are concerned and scared. Immigration is an issue. It’s a federal issue that I’m not going to get entangled with.”
That said, McGill tells those who may be here illegally that they need to do everything they can to not only abide all laws like anyone else but that they need to go through the proper channels to become citizens.
He said he has no idea just how many illegal immigrants there may be in Sedona. But since this is a tourist-based community with many jobs in that industry, he feels the numbers may be larger than most surrounding communities. And because of the misconceptions and fear, he knows crimes go unreported.
“We don’t get a lot of calls in areas of town where primarily immigrants reside,” he said. “I would suspect that things are happening in the shadows as they always have. Someone’s going to have to have the courage to step forward.
“When we respond to a call, we’re going to deal with the emergency situation and arrest the bad guy. We’re not going to ask the victim about their immigrant status. It’s irrelevant to the crime we’re dealing with at that point. The bad guy will be arrested and then they have to deal with the consequences from there.”
On those lines, McGill said it comes down to a balancing act.
“There are folks in our community that aren’t going to like my stance,” he said. “They’re going to say, ‘Hey, they’re here illegally, you’ve got to deal with it.’ That’s not how I understand community policing. I can’t do that. If you think that through, if we get that reputation, nobody’s going to call and crime in those community’s will get out of control. The bad guys will know that no one will call the police out of fear. That’s not something we can afford to see happen.”