The Los Angeles police department (LAPD) has moved to end its practice of requesting the social security numbers of civilians officers question, after immigrants’ rights advocates raised concerns about potential violations of sanctuary laws meant to protect undocumented residents.
The Guardian reported last week on internal documents showing that LAPD was instructing officers to collect civilians’ social security numbers via “field interview cards”, which police complete after they stop or question someone, including civilians who aren’t under arrest.
Copies of the cards, obtained through a public records request by the Brennan Center for Justice, further showed that the department had advised officers to tell interviewees that the social security numbers “must be provided” under federal law. Experts, however, said there was no law requiring this disclosure to local police in everyday encounters.
On Friday afternoon, LAPD released a proposed policy revision and redesigned field interview cards, which remove the social security numbers section. The new policy says social security numbers “shall not be requested from subjects or witnesses interviewed and shall not be noted” on the cards.
Some undocumented immigrants lack social security numbers, and advocates were concerned that the request could be seen as officers asking civilians for their immigration status, which goes against California and Los Angeles sanctuary policies meant to limit local police coordination with federal immigration authorities.
The new field card policy, which will be discussed at Tuesday’s board of police commissioners meeting, also says officers “shall not ask a victim, witness, or temporarily-detained person for their place of birth unless particular circumstances make it necessary in order to investigate a criminal offense”.
LAPD said its policy update was in line with recommendations from the office of the inspector general last year, which had said the department should remove the social security question. The inspector general had also raised concerns about documenting gang affiliations on the cards. Prosecutors have accused multiple officers of falsely labeling people as gang members on the cards.
LAPD said it was now also removing the “gang” section on the card.
The policy document released on Friday was dated 19 August, though LAPD last week published copies of the card that still included social security information. The department did not immediately respond to an inquiry about this.
The Brennan Center’s records also revealed that police were using the field interview cards to request individuals’ social media information, raising privacy and surveillance concerns. Memos obtained by the non-profit organization showed that police officials had added social media to the cards because an account or username “can be highly beneficial to investigations”.
After the Guardian’s recent report, the LAPD released a statement defending the cards, saying: “Social media handles can be critical pieces of contact information.” In Friday’s policy update, LAPD said it was maintaining the social media section, but did not address the backlash.