Connecting state and local government leaders
Community identification cards allow immigrants and others in vulnerable populations access to IDs and help them build relationships with law enforcement, according to the Policy Executive Research Forum.
There are about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. but only 16 states, the District of Columbia and 20 cities allow undocumented persons to apply for a driver’s license or state identification card. The Police Executive Research Forum says law enforcement agencies should consider implementing community-based programs for undocumented and other immigrants to allow them access to IDs and help them have “a sense of belonging.”
Community-based ID programs are a viable alternative for residents who cannot obtain traditional forms of identification, according to a PERF report. Besides immigrants, the cards are beneficial for other vulnerable populations, including formerly incarcerated people, those experiencing homelessness and the elderly.
While some police officers have expressed concern about the potential for fraud, community ID cards are not more likely to be fraudulent than driver’s licenses, the report states.
Benefits to Police Agencies
Besides basic identification, community ID cards offer several benefits to law enforcement agencies, according to the report.As part of the process, police officials engage with residents to answer questions about the cards, allowing police and community members to talk in a “neutral setting.” This interaction helps police build relationships with residents.
ID drives also help to build relationships with the organizations that run them. Nonprofit and faith-based organizations that have developed trusted relationships with local police can tell clients that they can trust the police. This is especially helpful when working with undocumented immigrants.
Finally, community ID cards can improve the efficiency of police work. Crime victims and witnesses are generally more willing to talk to the police if they have an ID card. Plus, the cards can cut down on misidentifications.
The Police Executive Research Forum recommends 11 items to consider when implementing a community ID program:
Learn from experts. Attend an ID drive in another city to understand the application process and observe community engagement firsthand.
Engage with the community. Work with residents to learn what would make them feel safer. A community ID card is one way to build trust, but there are other strategies such as town hall discussions and use of social media platforms.
Develop partnerships with nonprofit and faith-based organizations. Work with leaders that may be interested in sponsoring an ID card program or providing volunteer support.
Establish clear requirements. A well-defined vetting process, and strict compliance with the requirements, can help validate the community ID card as a tool that police officers can trust. Also, consider obtaining legal advice to ensure that the cards are in compliance with state or local laws.
Involve line officers. Patrol officers are most likely to come across persons with community ID cards, so they have a strong interest in ensuring the program’s integrity.
Incorporate the card in agency policy. Make sure officers understand the card program as legitimate and that they can investigate if a card appears fraudulent.
Educate department personnel. To help dispel myths and encourage acceptance, educate staff about the ID card’s objectives, including how the card can and cannot be used.
Educate government agencies and businesses. To increase awareness and acceptance, be transparent and share information with libraries, health clinics, pharmacies, school districts and utilities and others. Consider inviting representatives of these organizations and businesses to an ID drive to learn about the program.
Choose the “right” officers to participate. Select staff who are comfortable engaging with undocumented immigrants, or individuals who may be fearful of the police or have limited English proficiency.
Have police leaders attend ID drives. The leaders also can apply for a community ID card to demonstrate the program’s legitimacy to the public and police personnel.
Make adjustments when needed. After each ID drive, debrief with volunteers to find out what went well and what may need improvement. Then refine the process.
The FaithAction ID Program and Network, which is based in Greensboro, North Carolina, is one model that local police agencies can facilitate the ID application process. The report explores how the FaithAction ID Program and other programs based on this model have served as a key part of community policing efforts in North Carolina, Virginia and Iowa.
For more information about the report and recommendations click here.
Jean Dimeo is managing editor of Route Fifty.