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As U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions railed in Sacramento Wednesday against California’s “sanctuary state” policies safeguarding some detained undocumented immigrants, inciting a war of words with Gov. Jerry Brown, Sonoma County’s top two law enforcement chiefs were 90 miles away, and paying little attention to the showdown.

Sheriff Rob Giordano and Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder were in San Francisco for an annual summit of county law enforcement chiefs. Giordano wasn’t aware of Sessions’ speech to the California Peace Officers’ Association, according to his spokesman, Sgt. Spencer Crum, who said the sheriff declined to comment.

Schreeder said he hadn’t caught up on Sessions’ remarks, preferring to stay out of the back-and-forth battle between the Trump administration and state officials. But he took issue with Sessions’ claims that California residents were imperiled by state law limiting local authorities’ cooperation with federal immigration officials.

That new law, which restricts jail notifications to cases of more serious crimes and alleged offenses involving undocumented immigrants, “isn’t going to keep police officers from keeping the streets safe,” Schreeder said. Outside of the jail, he said, the new law “hasn’t changed the way we do business.”

Sessions’ comments came a day after the Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit against California challenging three bills signed by Brown last year that put limits on local law enforcement cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations in the state.

“California, we have a problem,” Sessions said at the annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day hosted by the peace officers’ association, which opposed the sanctuary legislation last year.

Few, if any, representatives from Sonoma County law enforcement agencies were in attendance for Sessions’ speech. None attended in any official capacity from the Sheriff’s Office or the Santa Rosa and Petaluma police departments, officials said.

Sonoma County’s top law enforcement officials have reiterated that California law still allows for some cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

ICE agents picked up three inmates in a secure area at the Sonoma County Jail in December, before the sanctuary law went into effect Jan. 1, according to the Sheriff’s Office. In February, under the new law, federal immigration authorities again picked up three inmates at the jail.

Officials in California jails can legally notify federal agents about the date and time of release of a person if they have been convicted of one of more than 800 serious and violent crimes under current law. ICE agents can also pick up any inmate at any time with a warrant signed by a federal judge.

Sonoma County correctional deputies still provide information to ICE about the date and time of an inmate’s release on a weekly basis. That occurred 17 times in January and February, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

But the response rate to federal requests is down significantly from the time before August, when Giordano ordered a change in jail policy that restricted cooperation with federal authorities.

The number of federal notification requests answered by the county dropped from 100 percent to less than half in the first six weeks following the policy change, according to Sheriff’s Office records.

The new state law is slightly more restrictive than that now-obsolete jail policy, allowing cooperation across a narrower range of crimes. For example, before Jan. 1, Sonoma County Jail officials could notify ICE about an inmate’s release if the inmate was convicted of a misdemeanor DUI; now, under the state law, they can’t.

In the first two months of 2018, officials at the Sonoma County Jail have responded to just over a quarter of ICE requests for notification when an inmate is set to be released.

While the police officers association and the California State Sheriff’s Association opposed the sanctuary legislation, the California Police Chiefs Association remained neutral, Schreeder noted.

Santa Rosa police will continue to work with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations wing if “there is a criminal nexus” such as drug and human trafficking, he said.

Meanwhile, candidates in the first contested race for Sonoma County Sheriff in a quarter century have all expressed varying degrees of support for the sanctuary state law. Santa Rosa City Councilman Ernesto Olivares and retired Los Angeles Police Capt. John Mutz have voiced enthusiastic support in public comments and interviews. Sheriff’s Capt. Mark Essick has been more reserved in his response to the new law, though he has made a point of noting that he spearheaded the jail policy change that took effect in August.

“The problem’s not California. The problem is Jeff Sessions and Trump,” said Olivares in response to the attorney general’s comments on Wednesday.

Mutz and Essick did not make themselves available for interviews.

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.

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