Galveston will receive $875,000 from the federal government to hire seven new police officers next year, a boon department officials say will increase their ability to investigate and target crime. But the money requires a promise the city will not stand in the way of federal immigration enforcement efforts.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday that Galveston would be among 179 cities around the country to receive a share of $98 million in hiring grants.
Galveston Police Chief Rick Boyle said the money would allow the department to create a street crimes unit and a full-time crime scene investigation unit.
The units will allow the department to concentrate efforts on addressing high-crime areas, and on collecting and processing evidence.
“The street crimes unit will be based on information of where crimes are occurring,” Boyle said. “They won’t work a standard patrol shift. They’ll work the hot spots identified by crime trends and with data analyses.”
The city council approved a budget in September that included funding for eight new police officer positions — if the city managed to get the grants to fund the position.
With the grant-funded positions, the city’s police force will be back to its pre-Hurricane Ike staffing levels.
The department would fill the new positions as soon as possible, Boyle said.
Galveston has received similar grants in the past, although this year the justice department announced it would give priority to agencies that certify “their willingness to cooperate with federal immigration authorities within their detention facilities.”
Galveston does not operate its own jail. Instead, people arrested in Galveston are booked into the Galveston County Jail, 5700 Ball St. in Galveston.
Galveston officials have never called for the city to act as a “sanctuary city.” Although no exact definition of “sanctuary cities” exists, the term generally refers to one in which police departments decline to enforce federal immigration laws as part of their regular duties.
Some cities may also decline federal detainer requests to hold in their jails people suspected of being in the country illegally.
In the midst of a national debate about sanctuary cities this summer, Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough declared that Galveston was a “welcoming city.” The declaration did not carry any policy changes in the police department or elsewhere.
At the time, Boyle said the police did not, as a practice, ask people about their immigration status. On Tuesday, he said that was still the policy.
The county jail, however, has increased its scrutiny of people’s immigration status.
The Galveston Sheriff’s Office this year entered into an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to participate in an immigration enforcement program known as 287(g).
The program allows some sheriff’s deputies to investigate the immigration status of some prisoners held in the jail without the assistance of the federal agency.
The sheriff’s office is one of 17 Texas law enforcement agencies to participate in the program. Galveston County joined the program even as other agencies, including Harris County, were cutting their ties with the immigration agency.
In announcing the award, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that 80 percent of the grantees had agreed to cooperate with federal authorities.
“I applaud their commitment to the rule of law and to ending violent crime, including violent crime stemming from illegal immigration,” Sessions said. “I continue to encourage every jurisdiction in America to collaborate with federal law enforcement and help us make this country safer.”