By Jonathan J. Cooper
PHOENIX — Arizona police officers will be taught that race and ethnicity cannot be used when enforcing a new illegal immigration law, the state's top police training official said Wednesday _ without offering a definition of reasonable suspicion that someone is in the country illegally.
"Race is not an (indication) of criminality," Lyle Mann said, referring to the state's large Hispanic population.
The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board voted unanimously Wednesday to adopt a framework for a video training course that will be distributed to all 15,000 Arizona police officers.
The five-page framework is an outline of the agency's plan for the video. It doesn't include a script or details of exactly what officers will be told.
The video will emphasize the importance of professionalism, ethics and integrity, as well as an officer's duty to protect civil rights.
Retired federal immigration agents will describe how federal officers are trained to avoid racial profiling and the documents that immigrants are required to carry.
Officers will be taught how to contact federal immigration authorities or local officers certified by the federal government to determine someone's immigration status.
The training will be distributed to all 170 police agencies by the end of June. Police bosses will decide the best way to teach their officers, but there is no requirement that officers watch the video before the law takes effect July 29.
Appearing in Washington with Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, President Barack Obama on Wednesday stepped up his criticism of Arizona's illegal immigration law, calling it "misdirected" and warning that it has the potential to be applied in a discriminatory fashion. Obama called for overhauling the nation's immigration laws.
The measure has come under fire by civil rights groups and some police officials who argue that it invites racial profiling of Hispanics.
It requires police enforcing another law to verify a person's immigration status if there's "reasonable suspicion" they are in the U.S. illegally.
Mann said officers will be reminded that the rest of the nation is watching Arizona.
"How it goes here in Arizona is going to be an (indication) of what it's going to do around the country, and that needs to be brought out," he said.
The law restricts the use of race, color or national origin as the basis for triggering immigration questions. But critics worry officers will still be influenced by their preconceived ideas that illegal immigrants look Hispanic.
"The way the law is written, it almost leads officers to do racial profiling, while at the same time saying, 'Don't do it,'" Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris told The Associated Press last week.
Two police officers, one each from Phoenix and Tucson, have filed lawsuits asking judges to overturn Arizona's law. They argue in part that the law can't be enforced without profiling.
Gov. Jan Brewer has defended the measure, saying profiling is illegal and won't be tolerated. She ordered the training course be created when she signed the law April 23.
Supporters say there are plenty of factors aside from race that can indicate someone is in the country illegally. They say, for example, an officer would have reasonable suspicion if he encounters a driver without identification who gives conflicting information while traveling through a known smuggling corridor.
Rep. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican and key supporter of the measure in the Legislature, said police officers routinely form reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a crime.
"We're bringing our officers up to speed in a skill they already have but applying it in a new area," said Kavanagh, a former police officer. "It should be a rather seamless transition."
Arizona's law was passed in part with the lobbying muscle of unions representing rank-and-file police officers who argued that they should be allowed to arrest illegal immigrants they encounter.
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It was opposed by police bosses who worried it would be expensive to implement and would destroy the trust they've developed in Hispanic neighborhoods.