Special Order 40

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Well, May 1 came and went without incident in Los Angeles.

It's always a good thing when we get past May Day without a half-million people marching down Wilshire Boulevard. Or the LAPD busting reporters' heads in MacArthur Park.

The police department was slow to admit how badly it's image suffered in the May Day Melee a year ago, when a supposedly elite unit of cops rampaged like untrained thugs.

In the aftermath, the officers' union didn't look too good either, showing that its higher loyalty is to bad cops over law and order.

But credit the LAPD for a commendable job of preparing its officers, and the city, for this year's immigrant marches. Things went so smoothly, it was barely a story.

Now if only Chief Bratton can bring about peace over the latest hot-button issue to pit factions of his department against each other – just as in the community at large.

That emotional trigger is Special Order 40.

The policy dates from the era of Police Chief Daryl Gates. It basically guarantees that illegal immigrants who have not broken any other law can talk to the LAPD without fear of being arrested and deported.

If there's a juicier subject for AM radio's anger whores to use to rile up their listeners, I don't know what it is.

It's got the all-important us versus them component. The specter of preferential treatment for THEM. And of course, brown-skinned poor people.

It's a fat pitch for the John and Kens of L.A.'s airwaves to smack out of the park.

And that was before the murder of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw, allegedly by an illegal gang member.

That tragedy elevated the grumbling of the anger mob, white and black, into a real debate over where the line should be.

Gates himself says that Special Order 40 is necessary. BUT that it should be fine – even encouraged - to use the immigration laws to rid the streets of gang members.

In a recent survey of 40 opinions in the Times, the split was interesting.

Only a few called for doing away with the policy all together. They seemed the more ideologically rigid of the group.

Law enforcement voices generally recognized that policing Los Angeles would be impossible without something like Special Order 40.

There would be less trust of the police. More difficulty getting witness cooperation. More victims of unreported crimes.

But many also suggested modest alterations to make it clearer that gang members who are here illegally could be turned over to the feds.

LAPD chief Bill Bratton is an absolutist on Special Order 40. He calls it absolutely essential and, even after almost thirty years, needs no fixes.

In fact, he says, "Special Order 40 is not changing one word as long as I'm chief."

He gets pretty irked about the way the policy has been distorted in the telling, even by his own officers.

Some street cops complain that it means they can't ask the immigration status of anyone they stop. Even of arrestees.

Bratton says those officers are confused or, basically, liars.

And he lumps in City Councilman Dennis Zine, a reserve officer who proposed changes in Special Order 40 after Jamiel Shaw's killing.

Now, everyone knows that Zine ranks much lower than the chief on the City Hall clout meter. So Bratton pulls no punches.

If he has his way, he'd make Zine first in line when all LAPD officers go through re-training on the measure's provisions.

My agenda is simple: I want LA to be safer tomorrow than it was today. When I look at who lines up where, and size up their expertise and agendas, I feel safer with Special Order 40 than without.

But deporting more gang members sounds good too. They could call it Special Order 40.2.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.