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TPD not tracking 1,000s of calls to BP; no rubber bullets Tues.

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TPD not tracking 1,000s of calls to BP; no rubber bullets Tues.

  • Rául Alcaraz Ochoa speaks in front of a standing-room only crowd in the chapel of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson on Wednesday.
    Paul M. Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comRául Alcaraz Ochoa speaks in front of a standing-room only crowd in the chapel of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson on Wednesday.

A Tucson police spokeswoman said activists were incorrect when they claimed rubber bullets were fired at a protest Tuesday night, and said that the department "has no mechanism to track" all of the requests for immigration status checks made to federal authorities. Over 1,100 such requests were made in August, and they are a "daily occurrence," said TPD's Sgt. Maria Hawke.

Immigration activists held an impromptu demonstration Tuesday night, circling a Border Patrol vehicle after two undocumented immigrants were detained following a South Side traffic stop.

Tucson police, who made the stop for a broken license plate light and called in border agents when the found neither the driver of the vehicle nor his passenger had documents, eventually used pepper spray and pellets to disperse the crowd.

Before Border Patrol officers arrived, nearly 100 people had gathered at the scene, Hawke said.

Describing the incident in an interview Thursday, Hawke said that "seven to ten" TPD officers originally responded to the scene during the confrontation, which unfolded over about 90 minutes.

Activists said Wednesday that about 20 TPD officers were at the scene. Hawke said that by the end of the incident, 17-18 officers had arrived at the scene after a call to other precincts.

Officers used pepper spray and pellets when demonstrators refused to leave the street, linking arms around the BP truck holding the two detained men.

Activists Leilani Clark and Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa claimed police used rubber bullets as they moved the crowd out of the street.

Hawke said patrol officers "don't carry rubber bullets."

"Only our grenadiers carry those," she said, describing planned deployments of riot police "with shields and masks ... like a Fourth Avenue situation," referring to the 2001 riot after the University of Arizona basketball team lost the national championship game.

Rubber bullets are categorized as "less lethal" weapons, and generally cause deep bruising and other injuries when used, although they can cause broken bones or even death.

Tuesday night, the Fire Department was called, but no one was reported injured; several people were treated at the scene for exposure to pepper spray, including Clark.

Speaking Wednesday, TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor defended his officers' actions, telling reporters that officers were following "the precepts of SB 1070" during a legitimate traffic stop.

"The officers did exactly as they are supposed to," said Villaseñor. "Physical force or pepper spray was in response to the aggressive nature of the crowd. It was because the crowd was very emotional and had started to become physical and this was a quick way to stop it from getting worse."

Arizona's SB 1070 law requires local police to contact federal authorities to determine the immigration status of those they arrest, and those they encounter on legitimate police business who they suspect may be undocumented.

Before that portion of the law survived a Supreme Court challenge that saw much of the statute tossed out, Villaseñor signed a brief against SB 1070 and argued that the measure "undermined local law enforcement."

'Daily occurrence'

TPD conducts immigration status checks frequently, Hawke said.

In August, 1,151 requests for immigration status were made through the TPD records office, Hawke said. Other status checks are made directly by officers, bypassing the records desk, she said.

Immigration checks for those who are arrested and taken to the Pima County Jail are made after being booked into the jail, she said.

"It's been absorbed into daily duties," Hawke said.

TPD has "no mechanism to track" the total number of immigration checks, she said. The department also does not track the number of checks that result in federal agents requesting officers detain a person for a suspected immigration violation, she said.

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