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East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux addresses the crowd during a promotional ceremony, Thursday, July 20, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux set an example to keep in mind as Baton Rouge leaders search for a new police chief. It's an idea that voters in Jefferson Parish and New Orleans should also consider as they make some key decisions at the polls in coming months.

In May, with little fanfare, Gautreaux's office signed a 287(g) memorandum with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It permits deputies, after a month of training and periodic refresher courses, to investigate federal immigration matters under Immigration and Customs Enforcement supervision as prisoners are booked into jail.

Initiated in 1996, the program didn’t really take off until 2006, then waned amid allegations of racial profiling. The Obama administration made some changes in response, then scaled it back in 2012, eliminating a policy that allowed sweeps by local law enforcement agencies to uncover people here illegally.

President Donald Trump earlier this year pledged to reinvigorate the program. Although he didn't restore the power of local law enforcement agencies to conduct sweeps for those here illegally, the wording of an executive order hints that could be on the way. 

Many street-level law enforcement officers seem to like the new president's approach. As a result of a more enthusiastic DHS, participation by law enforcement agencies in 287(g) jail enforcement has doubled since the beginning of the year. East Baton Rouge became the first jurisdiction in Louisiana to sign on.

Before the Obama administration's curtailment, research showed the program worked to reduce immigrants here illegally, although possibly by shifting at least some of them from one jurisdiction to another. Despite overwrought claims of profiling, little evidence of that existed, especially where jurisdictions engaged in robust community outreach.

While law enforcement agencies must take on greater costs for this collaborative program than with the more passive Criminal Alien Program and Secure Communities, local officials can choose how many resources to commit and pull back if it's deemed too costly. However, even if local agencies must pay for participating personnel, evidence suggests the 287(g) model produces greater efficiency in detaining criminal illegals and potentially reduces costs by discouraging their presence, leading to fewer incarcerations and a lower crime rate.

Baton Rouge crime-fighting needs a boost with the city’s murder rate spiking higher and the loss of Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination program funds. Making sure that the replacement for retiring Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie is open to enforcing immigration laws can only help. Identifying those here illegally who have committed non-immigration crimes would make it easier to deport them and free up more jail space.

Likewise, in next year’s election to replace retiring Sheriff Newell Normand, voters in Jefferson Parish should evaluate candidates on their willingness to implement a 287(g) program. Normand appeared jaundiced against it, according to his testimony to a legislative committee last year on a bill penalizing local governments that did not cooperate with federal authorities in identifying immigrants here illegally who were in custody.

However, Normand’s hand-picked successor, former state Rep. Joe Lopinto, voted for the bill both in committee and on the floor. At that session’s end, Lopinto resigned his seat and took employment with the Sheriff’s Office.

Additionally, in New Orleans, voters should scrutinize the views of potential successors to outgoing Mayor Mitch Landrieu on this issue. Landrieu bombastically criticized local detainment powers earlier this year, saying “the NOPD will not be coerced into joining Trump’s deportation army via the 287(g) program.” With New Orleans among large cities ranking fourth in the murder rate in America and 32nd highest in the world for 2016, the city’s next mayor would do well to repudiate Landrieu’s attitude.

Gautreaux made the right call to commence 287(g) participation. Hopefully, city officials and voters elsewhere will do the same.