Safety or Liberty?: The Bogus Trade-Off of Cross-Deputization Policy


  • This research was funded thanks to the support of: the Russell Sage Foundation, the UCLA Institute for American Cultures, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the National Science Foundation. We were invaluably aided in the development of our survey by: Mike Arnow, Ken Jameson, Kim Korinek, Theresa Martinez, and a number of other political figures, police officers, and community organizers in Salt Lake City. We would like to thank Tony Yapias for his assistance in recruiting Latino survey respondents, as well as our outstanding community surveryors in Salt Lake City: Ali Fletcher, Sondra Hansen, Mirjam Hug, Tattiya Kliengklom, and Flor Olivo. We would also like to thank the Salt Lake City Police Department, and particularly Chief Burbank, for their openness and steadfast support of equity-related research.

Liana M. Epstein, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, 1285 Franz Hall, Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA, 90095 [e-mail:].


The discussion of cross-deputization (mandating that police officers enforce immigration policies) is often framed as a referendum on civil rights and racial politics. Those who oppose cross-deputization often maintain that asking police to target individuals based on their immigration status endangers civil rights. Those who support cross-deputization, on the other hand, argue that enforcing immigration laws is necessary to maintain a culture of lawfulness and to preserve public safety. Previous research on the psychology of legitimacy and procedural justice, however, suggests that this is likely a false dichotomy (e.g., Alpert & Dunham, 2004; Jost & Major, 2001; Tyler & Huo, 2002), a perspective we adopt in this article. Drawing on the psychological literature on legitimacy and on our own research in the area of policing and immigration, we find that ensuring civil rights—and the perception of police fairness—does not conflict with public safety in either perception or reality. Rather, the public's belief in the fairness of law enforcement is a necessary precondition of public safety and lawfulness. In other words, because law enforcement requires legitimacy to be effective, wide-ranging concerns about racism actually become a threat to public safety. Implications for public policy are discussed.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

          — Benjamin Franklin