Prince George’s County police launched training efforts this week that specifically prohibit officers from cooperating with federal immigration authorities to enforce civil deportation orders.
The training includes a five-minute video that will be shown at the start of roll call over the next several days, reminding officers that they should cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement only if an individual is wanted on a criminal immigration warrant or in connection with certain suspected crimes, and not for any civil removal proceedings.
Historically, Prince George’s has not honored ICE detainers on noncriminal matters. But Police Chief Hank Stawinski told The Washington Post last month that some officers were mistakenly alerting the federal agency after stopping undocumented immigrants who had civil removal orders entered in a federal database.
After inquiries from The Post and from advocates, the county developed specific written rules to prohibit the practice.
Stawinski says in the training video that a “small number” of officers were acting incorrectly. He blamed the arrests on language in the FBI’s national criminal database that led officers to confuse an “outstanding administrative warrant of removal” — a civil summons — with a criminal arrest warrant.
The video, and written policies the department is also distributing this week, lay out the differences between the two orders.
“The Prince George’s County Police Department has not and will not enforce civil process of any kind,” Stawinski says in the training video, which was released department-wide Monday along with the written policies for officers.
Whether communities honor ICE detainers has long been a controversial policy debate, with advocates saying that immigration enforcement is a civil matter, not related to police work, and that by working with agents local police departments will rupture their ability to work with immigrant residents on local law enforcement issues.
The question has taken on new urgency as President Trump has promised sweeping arrests of migrant families across the country to deport “millions.”
“The new PGPD policy and training videos are critical measures to ensure that immigrant residents of Prince George’s County feel confident that they can contact the police when needed,” Gustavo Torres, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group CASA, said in a statement.
He applauded Stawinski and County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) for responding “so powerfully to the concerns of the community.”
The written policy now requires officers to review the basis for warrants and contact a supervisor if they cannot determine whether it is a civil or criminal matter.
Individuals should not be held up by police for more than an hour as officers look into the origin of a warrant, the video tells officers.
The video tells officers that if the FBI database locates a criminal immigration warrant for an immigrant they have stopped, the officers must confirm with dispatchers that the warrant is active and for a criminal offense. Officers can also cooperate with ICE when individuals are suspected of customs-related offenses such as human trafficking, terrorist activities, money laundering or gang activity.
“The new written policy reaffirms our department’s long-standing policy that prohibits us from initiating an investigation or taking law enforcement action solely based on a person’s actual or perceived immigration status,” John “Zeek” Teletchea, the county police union president, says in the video.
A Spanish-language version of the video is in the process of being edited, Prince George’s police spokeswoman Jennifer Donelan said, “so our entire community can understand the directions that our officers have been given.”