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Q&A with Chief Geoffrey Farr (Blue Island, IL)

Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force   Blog

In the face of officer shortages throughout the state of Illinois, the state Legislature passed a law in July 2023 allowing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to become police officers. House Bill 3571 took effect Jan. 1, permitting police departments to hire noncitizens who are legally authorized to work. Chief Geoffrey Farr of Blue Island, Illinois, was one of the officers to testify before the Illinois State House advocating for the passage of the bill, and he is now at the front lines of implementing it.

The chief’s responses have been edited for length and clarity.  

What was your experience like testifying before the Illinois State House on the bill to allow DACA recipients to become officers in Illinois? Testifying in front of the Illinois State House was not as confrontational as I had expected. One representative posed a valid question pertaining to officer safety in off-duty circumstances. And I completely agree with his assessment of the realities of going about your everyday life without having the ability to protect yourself or your family should a situation arise.

Why is this issue important to you? From a professional perspective, law enforcement has seen a decline in recruitment the last few years given false narratives surrounding the profession. In years past, hiring lists had hundreds of qualified applicants. However, currently most agencies would consider themselves lucky to have a list of qualified applicants in the double digits. In some municipalities, they are offering significant signing bonuses and higher salaries for officers from surrounding agencies to join their department. As the state faces officer shortages, DACA recipients were ineligible to apply to be police officers before this bill. Their ineligibility was not based on poor decisions they made but rather the location of their birth – a variable they had zero control over. From a personal and professional standpoint, I applaud our state Legislature for allowing DACA recipients the opportunity to work in law enforcement. Applicants for any profession should be considered based on their merits.

How has your experience been in Blue Island with DACA police officers since the new law went into effect? We have fielded several inquiries from potential applicants wanting to know the date of the next planned testing cycle. Prior to January 2024, the Blue Island Civil Service Commission amended their eligibility requirements allowing DACA recipients to apply for law enforcement positions. We have tested more than a handful of DACA applicants from the state of Illinois and other places such as Florida, Virginia, and Texas.

How many DACA officers do you have? We currently have three DACA officers, all of whom are part-time. Officer Mitchell Soto Rodriguez became state-certified after graduating from the academy in January 2024. She is expected to be sworn-in as a full-time officer on April 9. Office Soto Rodriguez will soon become the first full-time female DACA officer in the State of Illinois. The other two officers are slated to attend the police academy this month.

How does your department address any legal concerns or uncertainties surrounding DACA recipients carrying firearms or holding positions of authority? When addressing legal concerns or uncertainties, I refer them to section 16(c) of the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act, which clarifies that the provisions on the acquisition and possession of firearms do not apply for law enforcement officials. When a DACA officer completes the academy and receives their state certification, they are issued department-owned firearms and department-owned ammunition. Their firearms and ammunition are secured in a separate locker in our armory that only the on-duty watch commander can access. The only difference with DACA officers is that their firearms and ammunition are secured before and after their respective work hours.

How do you see DACA police officers contributing to community engagement, public safety, and trust, particularly within immigrant communities? How has your community reacted? I am confident that DACA police officers will only strengthen what has already been in the making, and I believe they will enhance our ability to serve our community. At times, one hurdle we face in serving the Blue Island community is communicating with the Hispanic population. Our department is on the smaller end with 35 full-time officers, 12 part-time officers, and 5 Community Service Officers. Of our 52 employees, only 18 are fluent in Spanish. And among the officers fluent in Spanish, 7 of the 18 were hired within the last year. Our ability to serve our community is already improving, although not as quickly as we would prefer. I hope that any reluctance to come forward to report a crime or community concern is lessened with the presence of DACA officers.

How has your community reacted? Officer Mitchell Soto Rodriguez was sworn in by our mayor, Fred Bilotto, in February 2023. She has lived in Blue Island since she was 9 years old, attending both grammar and high school here. Recently, she met with community members at our National Night Out event in August 2023, where she was well-received by residents.

How do you balance the potential benefits of having DACA police officers with any potential concerns? We place every applicant through a stringent background investigation; there isn’t any part of their past that we are not aware of. If applicants have a history that would cause concern or could cast a negative image on our department or city, we will not hire them. That said, I believe that DACA officers would not partake in anything that could jeopardize their livelihoods or work authorization.

More specifically, what happens if a DACA officer suddenly loses their legal status?  Should a DACA officer lose their work authorization, they do not work. Their state certification will still be valid for up to two years after their last day of employment. Should the work authorization come under review, and ultimately be approved, the officer would then return to work.

How would you address this concern/question: Should a noncitizen be able to arrest a U.S. citizen?  We aren’t talking about outsiders with no ties to this country. Dreamers grew up in the U.S. and, for many, this is the only country they’ve known. I am less interested in the location of someone’s birth than I am interested in their character and holding people accountable for the decisions and/or behaviors they consciously make to break the law. The reality of the situation is that the country is in short supply of police officers. Unless we can change the trajectory of interest in the law enforcement profession, there may not be any police officers to arrest anyone. We are struggling to recruit the officers we need. Reasons behind the lack of interest in law enforcement jobs are unclear, but probably can be attributed to several factors, including generation gaps, changing views of the profession, as well as inadequate salary and benefits.

What would you tell other chiefs or officers who are unsure about hiring DACA officers? With almost every agency in the country looking to supplement the personnel they have lost, either to retirement or another agency, I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t hire DACA officers. Police departments have altered their recruitment strategies to fit the times. The one question that nobody is going ask when that time comes is, “where were you born?” Amazingly enough, blood transfusion recipients don’t ask that question either. When it’s a life-or-death situation, the location of one’s birth is irrelevant. When I need help, I will take any help that is offered.

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