Police Chief Honored for Outreach to Immigrants
Thursday, July 3, 2008
When the District-based immigrant-rights group Ayuda honored Fairfax County Police Chief David M. Rohrer at its recent birthday gala, it marked something of a departure.
In recent years, the group has recognized President Elias Antonio Saca of El Salvador and Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D), a four-term congresswoman from Southern California.
"It's not the typical honoree," said Mauricio Vivero, Ayuda's executive director, "but he deserved it."
Rohrer, Vivero said, has been effective at one of the toughest tasks in community law enforcement: setting a welcoming tone that encourages sometimes-wary immigrants to seek police help when they need it. And at a time when a charged debate over illegal immigration has buffeted Prince William County and other areas, Vivero said Fairfax's efforts at outreach have been a welcome counterpoint.
"He has been, number one, very proactive in making sure that immigrant communities are aware of how to interact with the police in a positive way. That includes witnesses and victims of crime," Vivero said. Rohrer and the department's Spanish-speaking and other officers show up frequently at neighborhood meetings to build ties.
Moreover, Rohrer is sensitive to the history that many Fairfax residents bring with them, Vivero said. About 30 percent of the county's population is foreign-born.
"He understands many people from Africa or Latin America who come to this community have a fear of police . . . like they have general apprehension about their governments as well," Vivero said, because in the societies where they used to live those institutions often don't work.
"He has been very clear that he is about policing behavior and not policing status," Vivero said.
Rohrer was recognized as part of Ayuda's 35th anniversary celebration last month at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in the District.
Immigrant groups and others voiced concerns when the Prince William Board of County Supervisors instructed police last year to check the immigration status of suspects when there was probable cause that the individual was in the country illegally. The policy has evolved, and now authorities in Prince William check immigration status on all those who are arrested.
People arrested in Fairfax are asked whether they are U.S. citizens as part of booking procedures, Rohrer said. "If I go to the jail, I get checked," Rohrer added. "That to me is fair and impartial."
"I don't believe we should be involved in everyday immigration enforcement, and most police chiefs feel the same way," Rohrer said. "I'm fortunate. My Board of Supervisors believes the same as I do. We target behaviors."