Clarity regarding Durham’s police policies toward illegal immigrants was what Durham City Councilman Thomas Stith said was needed this afternoon, especially given the contradictory memos he received from police themselves in a 24-hour period. But no other council member, nor Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr., agreed.

At a council work session today Stith proposed that the current council resolution, passed in 2003 with Stith’s support, be changed to explicitly clarify that police can and should ask about immigration status when they interact with people in a criminal situation. Stith, and Deputy Chief Ron Hodge in a memo three days ago, thought the resolution and the current police policy were in conflict and needed clarity. But Lopez disagreed.

“I don’t think that we need the clarity,” said Lopez. “I think a good job was done in 2003.” He said that “to change it just for the sake of clarity would be a futile move.” Asked by Stith why the police department seemingly changed its mind between Sept. 17 and Sept. 18, Lopez blamed that on his (Lopez) not fully understanding the resolution at first. “I was not completely versed in it,” he said.

When Stith asked his fellow council members if there were any support for modifying the resolution he was initially met with stony silence from fellow council members, Chief Lopez and the 30-40 audience members who wore Day-Glo green stickers advocating keeping the resolution “AS IS.” After a brief silence, Mayor Bill Bell, Stith’s opponent in the mayor’s race this year, said, “Clarity is in the eye of the beholder.”

Asked what the actual Police Department policy is vis a vis illegal immigrants, Lopez said, it is not the department’s job to “ascertain if people are here legally. … It is not our issue.” But he said, as he now understands it, the resolution clearly stresses the importance of the police making inquiries about immigration status in criminal investigations. But he added, “We will not be an arm of the INS [sic].”

There was a brief discussion about how Durham could have gotten on a list of “sanctuary cities.” “How did Durham get this title?” asked a perplexed Howard Clement III. City Manager Patrick Baker told the council that the Congressional Research Service added Durham to its list because of the very resolution that was being discussed.

Lopez then added that perhaps Durham is considered a sanctuary city only by people “who are not used to people as forward looking as you.” Councilman Eugene Brown added that Durham should, indeed, be a sanctuary city for, as he said, “justice, fairness and equality.”

I’m not sure, but I could swear I heard people humming “America the Beautiful.”

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. answers questions about police policies toward illegal immigrants from City Council members at a work session on Sept. 20.