Chief Biehl: Biden’s Homeland Security pick competent, compassionate

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This guest column by Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl will appear on the Ideas and Voices page.

When I became Dayton’s police chief nearly 11 years ago, I was dismayed to learn that immigrant members of my community were deeply fearful of police officers — even going so far as to pull their children out of school to avoid encounters with law enforcement.

Credit: Carolyn Kaster

Credit: Carolyn Kaster

A years-long effort to determine the root causes of this distrust found that arrests from disproportionately minor crimes had led to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removal of Hispanic residents, instilling fear of family separation in the community. That’s why we acted quickly to change the pattern, restricting the physical arrest of persons for first time traffic offenses and requiring officers to make a good faith effort to solve issues without jailtime.

Today in Dayton, Hispanic community members are less likely to face ICE removal for minor traffic charges that were never adjudicated by a court of law — and officers can spend their limited time on more important local public safety matters like reducing serious crime.

This connected, community-focused approach works. And it’s why I am glad that President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

An experienced, empathetic and effective leader, Mayorkas is a longtime champion of collaboration between law enforcement and the community. He knows that any community where immigrants live in fear risks the safety of its whole population, and he has a commendable record of working to change this dynamic. During his time as a top official in the Obama administration he worked diligently to develop community policing and border security policies that kept native-born Americans and immigrants safe, and he understands the issues law enforcement and immigrant communities face day- to-day.

I am a believer in Mayorkas’ community-first mentality. I saw it work in my city, so I know it will work across the country.

Nationwide, we need this same kind of commonsense approach to immigration reform in order to make real and sustainable strides toward fixing our system. There’s no one better suited to help us get there. Mayorkas is seasoned at embracing and implementing this kind of reform. He implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and overhauled visa processes for immigrant workers during his work in the Obama administration — key actions that acknowledge and support the role of immigrants in our economy and society.

A political refugee from Cuba whose family sought safety in the U.S., Mayorkas is no stranger to the challenges and triumphs of building a life here.

Here in Dayton, the growth in our immigrant population — it has more than doubled since the mid-2000s — has helped the city thrive. Having a leader at the federal level who understands the experiences and challenges of this growing portion of my community is a major boon for us — and the country. I know he’ll support, not hinder, our growth.

I look forward to having a competent, compassionate leader at DHS. Mayorkas’ commitment to and respect for law enforcement, combined with his understanding and empathy for the community, make me confident that under his leadership, we can bolster community safety and achieve commonsense reform. Let’s get to work.

Richard Biehl is the Police Chief of Dayton. He is a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board. Guest columns are submitted  or requested fact-based opinion pieces typically of 300 to 450 words.

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