Blog Post: Q & A with Chief Ramon Batista
November 18, 2021
Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force Blog
Q & A with Chief Ramon Batista
Chief Ramon Batista is the police chief in Santa Monica, CA and is currently serving as a LEITF Senior Advisor. Chief Batista has 35 years of law enforcement experience and was previously the chief in Mesa, AZ.
How did you first come to be involved in the LEITF?
I first came to be involved with the LEITF thanks in large part to Police Chief Chris Magnus. Chief Magnus became the chief of the Tucson Police Department in 2015. That same year he took me with him to the LEITF meeting that convened during the Major Cities Chiefs Association conference. After the meeting I was hooked. I knew the LEITF platform would provide me with a voice to the immigrant issues we were experiencing in our community. I recognized that the LEITF would be a communication bridge on immigration and public safety issues directly to the people making decisions that were impacting our communities and our police officers.
Membership in the LEITF allowed me to speak directly with members of the White House and the Secretary of DHS. I also had the opportunity to network with other leaders in policing experiencing the same challenges. I fully credit Chief Magnus for introducing me to the LEITF – he supported and encouraged me to act as his liaison in future meetings.
Experiencing the success of my introduction to the LEITF as an assistant chief has led me to advocate to new member chiefs on the opportunity of familiarizing their assistant and deputy chiefs to the work of the LEITF and how it supports public safety initiatives. Although the membership to the LEITF does not place a high demand on the chief executive, exposing an assistant, or deputy chief to the principles of the LEITF allows the chief to have a footprint in the important issues facing the task force, while simultaneously forging a path of growth and understanding to the chief’s executive staff; thereby multiplying the voices of understanding, support and advice in the overarching effort to fix our immigration system.
Why is it important for law enforcement agencies to engage with their immigrant communities?
It is of maximum importance for law enforcement agencies to engage with immigrant communities for all the reasons that it is important to engage with all our residents. Immigrants are in the fabric of our society, they face all the same challenges and fears of crime and disorder that everyone can relate to. However, an immigrant has special challenges. They may not be able to communicate in English and they may be unfamiliar with our laws, but regardless, we need them on our side to provide witness and help law enforcement solve crime.
In addition, if an immigrant is coming from a country where they experienced abuse at the hands of the police, they may be untrusting of authority figures. This last issue is of great concern; in some cases, we are dealing with a combination of experiences and issues that impact crime reporting in immigrant communities. On one front, their experiences may lead them to avoid the police. You may have immigrants that fear losing their resident status in the United States – they don’t want to raise red flags as “troubled citizens”. This is where leaders in public safety need to emphasize that our role in the lives of immigrant communities involves one of building trust, emphasizing communication and understanding between ourselves.
The greatest risk is that criminals can seize on the fear that immigrants have toward the police and leverage them as near perfect victims that will never attempt to confront those that harmed them. None of us in public safety can ever imagine a situation where we would allow a crime suspect to act unabated in their effort to injure or deprive others of their liberties, yet we know it can happen in communities that have yet to establish the necessary trust, relationships and understanding that lead to healthy, resilient communities.
During your time as a police chief, what challenges have you faced while engaging with immigrant populations? What have been some of your successes?
I started to experience the challenge of effectively engaging with immigrant communities as a patrol captain. The work of getting to know our immigrant communities is never ending, and philosophically, it mirrors the work in our community at large. Albeit the work in immigrant communities has inherent challenges, we are more successful when we include social service agencies and community partners that can help bridge the cultural understanding.
As an emerging police executive in Tucson, AZ, I worked extensively with the Latino immigrant community. My ability to speak Spanish provided me with a unique advantage, breaking through the language barrier and thus opening the lines of communication and trust building. Being a Spanish speaker that also looked like them was helpful, however I’ll never forget the bilingual officers that connected so effectively with the Spanish speaking population. The bilingual officers’ ability to communicate, show empathy and understand people in need opened the door to immigrants that were not expecting it; they cooperated and engaged. It was incredibly rewarding to see it unfold.
My experience with the Tucson Police Department was that they were leading the way in their effort prepare their officers for encounters with Spanish speaking members of the public. The department invested heavily in Spanish language immersion training and compensated officers and staff that could speak Spanish in their job assignment. I am immensely proud of my time with the Tucson Police Department as it provided me with values grounded in the importance of relationship building and constitutional policing that applies to everyone, citizens and immigrants alike.
What have you learned about immigration policies during your time as a police chief that you think other law enforcement leaders should know?
During the length of my career, I have come to learn that the issue of immigration is incredibly challenging in our country. Despite the rhetoric, I have yet to meet a police executive or a serious political leader from either party that advocated for open borders. We need comprehensive border security and a pathway to legal citizenship. I believe that with the collective power and will of our country, we can, and should, do both.
I have had the opportunity to work with talented and thoughtful leaders in government and the private sector that value the important contributions of immigrants in this country. These pivotal leaders are finding ways to partner, support and lobby the federal government to continue the work addressing our nation’s immigration system. I admire the leaders in policing that find a way to navigate the myriad of state laws and federal immigration oversight in pursuit of better and safer outcomes for all their residents. What I’ve learned is that despite the rhetoric, there is immense support for immigration reform on all sides and we should be attentive and supportive of the voices that bring forth workable solutions.
As divisive as this issue can be, being a leader in public safety means that one must have a high degree of optimism and enthusiasm for what can be accomplished when we partner and leverage our relationships in pursuit of strengthening and uniting our country as one.
How can the federal government best support and/or partner with state and local law enforcement?
It boils down to engagement and understanding with our federal partners. We need to continue our relationships with federal law enforcement and be a force multiplier in the identification and capture of violent criminals that prey on our society. There are numerous success stories that involve our mutual cooperation in providing authentic public safety, and those relationships should be strengthened and celebrated.
At the policy level, we want our government to be transparent in their communication and intent. We want them to listen and engage with local and state public safety agencies. Local police and sheriffs are on the ground, experiencing first-hand the effects of the federal government’s policies and we’re in the good position to offer feedback on how to improve the effort.
How would communities and law enforcement agencies benefit from immigration reforms –specifically pathways to legalization for undocumented immigrants?
It is evident from our everyday life that immigrants are a vital resource in pursuit of the overall success of our country. We should be doing everything we can to attract the most talented individuals in the world, and we should be working to solidify common sense immigration reform that brings other immigrants out of the shadows through common sense pathways to legal immigration.
We know there are hard-working individuals in all ranks of immigrant society that want to contribute to the betterment of our nation. Today and throughout our history we have witnessed the effects of their service and dedication in professional arenas such as the medical and technology field. There are countless stories of heroism, leadership and bravery in immigrant members of our armed services (look no further than Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants). Lastly, we should never forget that immigrants play an important economic role as they are the backbone to many everyday service industries that support our country such as farming, the meat processing industry, restaurants and hotels. Many of these immigrants are conservative in nature. They respect and believe in law and order, hard work, have a strong affiliation to their religious faith, and they believe deeply in the commitment to their family. Immigrants possess the values we believe in and we should strive to work together as a country to fix our system, improve their lives and strengthen our country’s position in the world.