NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Police have not been helping the federal government crackdown on undocumented immigrants, contrary to an ACLU report, Mayor Harry Rilling and Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said late Wednesday.
“A recent report by the ACLU implies the City of Norwalk and Norwalk Police Department have an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement – that is not true,” the joint statement said. “We do not report anyone’s immigration status. On its face, it appears data from a cloud-based law enforcement database used by NPD was used by ICE to obtain information on specific individuals. That is not the intent of this database, as it is meant to assist law enforcement with criminal investigations.”
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is using mass location surveillance to target immigrants,” the ACLU of Northern California states on its website, asserting Wednesday that local governments are “feeding their residents’ personal information to ICE, even when it violates local privacy laws or sanctuary policies.”
“Records obtained by the ACLU of Northern California in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit detail ICE’s sweeping use of a vast automated license plate reader (ALPR) database run by a company called Vigilant Solutions,” the ACLU states. “Over 9,000 ICE officers have gained access to the Vigilant system under a $6.1 million contract that the public first learned of last year.”
The 2016-17 Norwalk capital budget authorized a $30,000 expense for the “Vigilant License Plate Reader (LPR) System.”
While more than 80 local law enforcement agencies, from over a dozen states, have agreed to share license plate location information with ICE, Norwalk is not among them, Rilling and Kulhawik said.
“We want to be clear: Norwalk welcomes all people,” the statement said. “We proudly stand with immigrants and residents of all backgrounds and beliefs. Our diversity is one of the greatest strengths of our community. It is the express policy of the Norwalk Police Department to refrain from cooperating or assisting with federal immigration actions.”
Rilling and Kulhawik have a history of attempting to reassure Norwalk immigrants that the Norwalk Police Department does not enforce immigration laws.
Norwalk Police would assist the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with a criminal investigation but not immigration enforcement, and the operations are completely separate, Kulhawik said in early 2017, explaining that ICE cannot use Norwalk’s jail and that he couldn’t imagine ICE coming to Norwalk to pick up immigrants.
Lt. Terry Blake said late Wednesday that he didn’t know if ICE has arrested anyone in Norwalk, as he doesn’t have that data.
“ICE has long desired the ability to locate people with laser-like precision. After prior attempts were scuttled because of privacy concerns, ICE rushed to finalize a 2017 contract with Thomson Reuters for access to the Vigilant database,” the ACLU states. “The $6.1 million contract gives ICE access to the Vigilant database through September 2020. Not only does Vigilant’s existing database contain over 5 billion license plate scans nationwide, but the database would continue adding, from commercial sources, ‘an average of 150-200 million unique’ license plate scans each month.”
The Westport Police Department also issued a press release late Wednesday, explaining that the License Plate Reader (LPR) systems it uses collects location data that can be queried by more than 500 law enforcement agencies.
Kulhawik and Rilling said:
“We want to be clear: Norwalk welcomes all people. We proudly stand with immigrants and residents of all backgrounds and beliefs. Our diversity is one of the greatest strengths of our community. It is the express policy of the Norwalk Police Department to refrain from cooperating or assisting with federal immigration actions.
“We are proud of the work we have done as a City and Department to build trust and strengthen relationships across different communities. The Norwalk Police Department will continue to protect and serve the residents of Norwalk.
“The City and Norwalk Police Department are investigating these allegations and will take appropriate actions to remedy the situation.”