Rantz: Crucial law enforcement tool returns to deputies after ICE uproar
UPDATE 8/29/19: A crucial tool used by law enforcement is back online for King County Sheriff’s deputies after assurances the tool doesn’t violate the county’s sanctuary status.
Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX) was proactively, reluctantly taken offline by Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht on August 15 amid concerns it would violate the county’s ordinance against providing ICE agents information on the citizenship status of suspects. The intent, I’m told, was always to keep it offline temporarily.
Since then, the sheriff’s office held meetings with attorneys and central staff to ensure compliance with the ordinance.
“They say unequivocally it does not violate the ordinance,” a source in the office tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.
The sheriff emailed staff on August 29 at 3:57 pm:
I want to thank all of you for your patience as we have worked, on several fronts, to re-establish our membership with LinX.
It was never my intention to permanently withdraw from LinX, instead the decision to temporarily withdraw was made out of an abundance of caution. After a recent King County audit determined the Sheriff’s Office had violated King County Code 2.15 by supplying documents to ICE, I became concerned about potential misuse of the LinX database.
A deeper legal review, and consultation with the County Council, has determined that our use of LinX does not violate the King County ordinance. I am grateful to the Councilmembers and their central staff for working closely with us over the last couple of weeks to reach this conclusion.
We hope to have your access to LinX restored as soon as tomorrow.
Discussions with LinX Northwest continue in hopes of creating a more permanent solution to prevent use of this important criminal database for civil immigration enforcement.
Moving forward we will continue to operate with compassion toward our immigrant and refugee populations.
The sheriff’s office, I’m told, will continue to work with LInX to reiterate that the tool should not be used for civil immigration enforcement, but only for criminal operations.
The King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) proactively halted access to an important tool their deputies use to share and receive important information on active investigations, and even traffic stops. The move is intended to be temporary, but it’s become mired in politics and has a growing chorus of people in law enforcement sounding alarms.
The system — Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX) — allows law enforcement across the country to upload case files, which arms officers with information they use in traffic stops, active investigations, and even to follow up on potential leads in cold cases.
“Our guys utilize it almost every day on traffic stops,” Black Diamond Commander Larry Colagiovanni told The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “One of the things we’re able to do from an officer safety standpoint is run the people they have pulled over on their license plates, things like that, to see if there’s any type of criminal history on the person, anything like officer safety bulletins, anything they should know about. We also utilize it with in-depth investigations. We use it to identify suspect’s victims.”
But last week, Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht reluctantly cut access to LInX, over concerns it would be used indirectly by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport illegal immigrants, in violation of the sanctuary county policy.
While ICE has access to the data, KCSO, like other area agencies, does not ask nor record the citizenship status of any suspect. ICE could, however, search the name of a criminal illegal immigrant on their radar and discover details about that person if they committed a crime in King County.
Democrats across the state, for some reason, have actively made it more difficult for violent, criminal illegal immigrants to be deported.
Just before KCSO lost access to LInX, so too did the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Was this related?
Why did they lose access?
KCSO and SPD lost access for different reasons.
A county audit from July 2019 found ICE accessed KCSO files, in violation of county code. After the auditor’s report was released, the KCSO received a torrent of criticism from community activist groups and local lawmakers. Among the protesters was Democratic State Rep. Joe Nguyen.
“Any interactions with ICE by our King County officials are reprehensible,” said Nguyen. “We have to hold people accountable for the actions that put our most vulnerable communities at risk, it’s critical that we get this right because our communities can’t afford to live in fear for their safety.”
At the same time, King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski was putting public pressure on the sheriff.
It spooked Johanknecht, concerned she was violating the sanctuary county policy in other areas. To stave off another fight, Johanknecht pulled the plug on LInX; it was done out of an abundance of caution.
The move was meant to be temporary, as the Sheriff meets with King County officials to ensure the database doesn’t actually violate the county ordinance. Meetings have already taken place to resolve this issue.
Still, Johanknecht chose to make this move — she wasn’t forced into it, spawning rumors that this was a purposeful move to pull the department politically to the left. There’s no evidence to back this up. In fact, in a letter obtained by the Jason Rantz Show, Johanknecht indicates she isn’t happy with the implications.
In the letter to Councilmember Dembowski explaining her decision, Johanknecht warned that “this will negatively impact my agency’s ability to access necessary information related to new and ongoing investigations, and to support other important functions.”
Rumors also suggested that King County Executive Dow Constantine may have had something to do with this. I confirmed, independently, he did not.
“We had no role in that decision,” Constantine’s director of communications Alex Fryer told the Jason Rantz Show. “We were informed of the issue after being included on correspondence between the King County Council and KCSO. We are working with both entities to help expedite a speedy resolution.”
In Seattle, LInX was shut off prior to KCSO’s move, and it had nothing to do with the sanctuary ordinance. I have confirmed that neither the Mayor’s Office nor the City Council made the request.
This, too, was meant as temporary, as the SPD navigates a new, internal database system and how it interacts with LInX. But, given the new political implications from the KCSO decision, SPD will now review the ICE-related concerns.
Sounding the alarms
Sheriff Johanknecht may have a temporary option at her disposal, as her office determines if LInX pulls them out of compliance with the ordinance.
Commander Colagiovanni says there is a way to access the data without uploading to it. This would temporarily give deputies access to important data without providing info ICE may use to enforce the law. Indeed, the Black Diamond PD doesn’t upload their cases to the database due to a technical issue that’s being fixed.
But under this arrangement, LInX would need to offer approval, and it’s unknown if KCSO approached them with this idea yet or if it’s possible with their current agreement.
Not all area law enforcement agencies lost access to LInX.
I’ve confirmed the police departments in Bellevue, Bothell, and Black Diamond still have access. And it’s important that they do.
“In my view, the LInX system is not only an officer safety tool, but a community safety tool,” Bellevue Police Chief Steve Myelett tells the Jason Rantz Show. “We need to examine this closely and the decisions being made.”
Black Diamond PD echoes the sentiment.
“We really rely on the… Sheriff’s Office as well the Seattle PD to upload their data into the system, them being the largest two agencies in the county,” Commander Colagiovanni tells me. “Clearly they respond to the most incidents. So that’s really gonna dampen how much we get to see in the system. And most agencies do upload stuff in there.”
This becomes especially important to officers in unincorporated areas during traffic stops or other calls, when backup may be 20 to 30 minutes away.
“They no longer have the access and the ability to look up the person that they are stopped checked out with, to see what kind of history that person has… to see if they have a violent history,” the commander says. “Do they have a history of having firearms under vehicles, being in possession of firearms? They can’t do that anymore. So that’s kind of scary to me.”
Privately, a number of law enforcement sources expressed concern to me, fearing a splashy on-the-record conversation may trigger the ire of community activists. But the ire is over a misunderstanding of what LInX actually does.
Johanknecht inadvertently set off a politically treacherous controversy that she needs to fix. Every day that law enforcement doesn’t have access to this data, is a day we’re needlessly putting law enforcement and the community in harm’s way.
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