Roeland Park residents, councilmembers weigh in on idea of ‘safe and welcoming’ ordinance

Roeland Park Police Chief John Morris gave a presentation on the department’s current procedures regarding immigration enforcement to the governing body.

Following Roeland Park City Council’s discussion of a possible Immigration and Customs Enforcement non-compliance ordinance in September, residents and councilmembers on Monday spoke both in favor of and against the city moving forward with such a “safe and welcoming policy.”

During the governing body workshop, Councilmember Michael Poppa said that misinformation on a proposed ordinance has “run rampant” in the community. He said the city has not and will not pass an ordinance in violation of federal law, and that an ICE non-compliance ordinance has not been presented to the governing body for formal review.

“We, the governing body, are doing what we were elected to do,” Poppa said. “We’re studying policy that may enhance the lives of all Roeland Parkers.”

Several residents spoke out against the idea of an ICE non-compliance ordinance for a variety of reasons, including the ordinance being a partisan issue since it involves immigration. One resident said such an ordinance would essentially invite thousands of impoverished people to the city and leave Roeland Park with the responsibility of finding ways to house them. Poppa said the city is not promoting the invitation nor the housing of thousands of impoverished people.

Other residents spoke in favor of an ordinance for reasons such as wanting the city to be a welcoming environment. One man said he and his wife were in support of the ordinance because “we are a nation of immigrants” and that “the treatment of immigrants in this country is horrible.”

Councilmember Claudia McCormack said the ICE non-compliance ordinance has proven to cause more division in the community than intended, and that consequently she would not be in support of such an ordinance.

After more than 10 residents made comments — both in favor of and against the idea of an ordinance — Police Chief John Morris gave a presentation on police procedures and policies in regards to immigration. Morris said city police treat each person the same, and that immigration law is not the primary concern of Roeland Park Police Department.

“We don’t go out looking for immigrants — that’s not our job,” Morris said. “My job is to protect you and your children.”

Morris then read a draft for an addition to the police department’s operations policy, which put the department’s current practices as they relate to immigration in writing. The policy acts as a guideline on how the department will use its resources. While the department itself does not enforce federal immigration law, the department does cooperate with federal partners.

The policy states the police department cannot stop or question someone to determine citizenship status, nor can it detain someone based solely on said status.

If the police department is contacted by ICE or another federal agency about a specific person’s criminal activity and no criminal warrant has been issued, the police chief or a supervisor has discretion to decide to comply with the agency or not. The chief or supervisor will take the following into consideration when making such a decision:

  • alleged criminal conduct
  • the amount of evidence
  • and the impact on public safety, the individual, and future cooperation between police and immigrant communities.

“We’re going to use common sense and good judgement for what’s right for Roeland Park,” Morris said.

Poppa then asked if there was any objection to include the immigration policy Morris read in the police department’s operations policy. It was met with no objection, and a written policy of the department’s current practices in relation to immigration will be included in the operations policy.

The governing body did not make a determination about whether to bring formal ordinance language forward to a future meeting for consideration.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify language in the operations policy. Additionally, we have removed a line suggesting that Councilmember Jan Faidley supported passage of an ordinance.