- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

The chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors says he will spend what it takes to outfit police cruisers with cameras if it is necessary to preserve the crackdown on illegal immigration targeted for repeal by a fellow board member.

“Certainly it looks like we may have to do the cameras,” said Corey A. Stewart, at-large Republican and the architect of the crackdown. “I think at this point I am going to be focused on saving the resolution.”

Mr. Stewart made his comments after Supervisor Frank J. Principi, Woodbridge Democrat, announced he would propose a repeal of the resolution at the board’s Tuesday meeting. Mr. Principi cited, in part, a lack of civil rights protections after the board unanimously voted last week to strip $3.1 million earmarked for cameras in police cruisers from the roughly $6.5 million budgeted to enforce the new policies next year.

Mr. Stewart said: “I think this is going to be a shock to [Mr. Principi’s] constituents, since it is the Woodbridge district that has had the worst problem with illegal immigration.”

Other board members predicted Mr. Principi’s proposal would likely be defeated.

“It really has gone over like a lead balloon,” said John T. Stirrup Jr., Gainesville Republican.

Supervisor Wally Covington agreed.

“It’s stirred the community back up, but I don’t think there are legs for repeal of the whole resolution,” the Brentsville Republican said.

Mr. Principi did not return several phone calls seeking comment.

In October, the board adopted the illegal immigration resolution, which allows county police officers to check the citizenship status of anyone they’ve stopped or arrested if they have “probable cause” to think the person is in the country illegally. The move came after the county in July began implementation of the 287(g) program that authorized trained staff to investigate inmates’ legal status and begin deportation proceedings, if necessary.

The crackdown put the county at the forefront of the national debate over illegal immigration, drawing praise and criticism from around the world.

Supervisors yesterday said they would be willing to tweak the resolution once more information on its implementation is available. They also suggested the cameras will be provided if officers are threatened with civil rights lawsuits.

“I’m not going to allow police officers to get themselves in trouble for following our orders,” said Martin E. Nohe, Coles Republican. “The attention that the immigration policy has garnered has changed the dynamic [for our officers]. If you are looking to charge someone with racial profiling, you are likely to start in Prince William.”

Mr. Nohe’s concerns echoed those of County Executive Craig S. Gerhart, who told the board Tuesday that short-term savings from the proposed cuts to the police budget could “turn into a much larger, long-term expense.”

“The potential risk, I believe, that we create with the current policy and without beginning at least the implementation of car cameras is somewhere between significant and tremendous,” he said. “One of the best defenses we have when we get sued is the video footage from these cameras.”

Mr. Stirrup defended the decision to strip the cameras from the budget.

“It seemed like we were allowing the threat of a lawsuit to dictate public policy,” he said. “I am always against that approach.”

The battles over funding the cameras and repealing the illegal immigration crackdown are expected to draw another big crowd to the county board’s meeting on Tuesday, during which the board is expected to vote on the county’s proposed $913 million budget.

“My aide told me to bring a pillow because it’s going to be a long one,” Mr. Covington said.

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