Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Responses to the Problem of Disorder at Day Laborer Sites

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem. The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community’s problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. The responsibility of responding, in some cases, may need to be shifted toward those who have the capacity to implement more effective responses. (For more detailed information on shifting and sharing responsibility, see Response Guide No. 3, Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems).

General Principles for an Effective Strategy

You should consider a few general principles when developing your response strategy. Which particular responses you adopt should depend on what you learn from a careful analysis of your local problem. This should include an understanding of your community’s attitudes toward day laborers and illegal immigrants. In places where there are strong anti-illegal immigrant sentiments, perceptions of police aiding day laborers could lead to citizen backlash against the agency. Conversely, arresting day laborers and other enforcement tactics may lead to resentment of police by citizens in communities that are sympathetic to illegal immigrants. In either case, community perceptions will have to be considered in formulating your response.

Strategies that focus exclusively on arresting day laborers or enforcing immigration laws are unlikely to be effective in the long term.[13] Strategies that seek to reduce the harms caused by day laborer sites rather than those that seek to eliminate day laboring altogether are more likely to work. An effective strategy should not only deter problems associated with day laborer sites, but also must provide an appropriate location and manner in which to carry out day laboring. This will entail sanctioning prohibited behaviors and encouraging agreed-to procedures for soliciting day-labor work. This might include establishing a designated location and creating rules. It usually requires cooperation among police, other government agencies, community service groups, local merchants, employers, and day laborers themselves.

Specific Responses to Reduce Disorder at Day Laborer Sites


Managing Day Laboring

  1. Improving the organization at current day laborer sites. Problems stemming from day laboring may not require new day-laboring sites; rather, better management of the ones that exist may be the solution. Creating and posting rules and procedures for laborers and employers to follow, placing trash containers and portable or permanent restrooms at the site, and so on, will reduce some of the associated problems. Enlisting managers to oversee the area will also reduce problems. These managers can be government employees, police officers, citizen volunteers, or community service groups.
  2. Imposing time restrictions on day labor activities. Some communities have implemented time restrictions on when day laborers are allowed to solicit work. [14] Allotting certain times of the day enables police to manage the process without having to devote substantial manpower to additional hours. It also reduces problems associated with laborers who linger around the site throughout the day. Time restrictions can be permanent or temporary, until a new day labor center is constructed.
  3. Establishing new day labor centers. Many communities have established new day labor centers.[15] The advantage of this approach is that the center can be constructed from the beginning and designed to eliminate the problems found at the day labor site. A suitable location can be selected and the facility can be built to accommodate day labor activity efficiently. The disadvantages are that it will require more funding and time spent getting it approved and built. It will also require other measures to ensure that laborers and employers actually use the center. The site can be either managed or unmanaged. Managed sites will be more orderly and have fewer problems.[16]
    1. Using volunteers to manage day labor centers. Using volunteers to manage day labor centers can help to reduce costs. Volunteers can include area residents and merchants, and religious or other community groups. In some places, day laborers themselves volunteer to help run the centers.[17] However, volunteers alone are insufficient to manage the site. The center will need ongoing police oversight and support.
    2. Soliciting help from area merchants. Area merchants can help in establishing day labor centers. They can provide material and financial assistance in building the centers. For instance, in Glendale, Calif., a n affected Home Depot donated building supplies for a new center. Merchants can also prove instrumental in working with police to ensure compliance among employers and laborers with newly adopted ordinances and procedures. Lastly, merchants can be enlisted to help in the ongoing management and administration of day labor centers.
    3. Obtaining grants and other financial support. Some communities have received city and private funding to build day labor centers. Community Development Block Grants have also been awarded.[18] Other communities have established city- and privately funded nonprofit organizations.[19] To do this, it will be necessary to estimate how much funding will be required, and to identify entities with an interest in establishing and maintaining an orderly day laborer center. Because illegal immigration is politically sensitive, obtaining public funds to manage them may be difficult. You may be more successful obtaining financial support from non-governmental entities.
    4. Creating and enforcing rules and procedures at day labor centers and sites. Part of managing day labor centers involves establishing rules of conduct and procedures for laborers and employers to follow. In some communities, this has been a collective process where laborers and employers help to create the rules and procedures. This democratic process should ensure acceptance by the participants and will facilitate successful self-policing among them. The rules and procedures should, at a minimum, include the following:
      • prohibitions against drinking, drug use, and gambling;
      • prohibitions against swarming;
      • prohibitions against violence;
      • prohibitions against public urination and littering;
      • proper procedures for soliciting employers and laborers;† and
      • provisions that ensure employers treat laborers fairly (e.g., pay laborers at the agreed-to price and provide breaks).
      In addition to setting rules and procedures, sanctions will also be required to deter violations. Conditions could be attached to the prohibitive behaviors, such that those who violate the rules are temporarily banned from the center or site, in addition to arrest if the behavior is criminal. Allowing day laborers and employers to help in determining sanctions will promote acceptance and self-policing.

      † Examples of this include establishing specified zones where laborers and employers are allowed to solicit, creating a single-file roster system of laborers available for hire, and designating specific areas for various laborer skills (e.g., one area for construction workers and another for landscapers). See Calderon, Foster, and Rodriguez (n.d.); Ruiz (1998); and Toma and Esbenshade (2001).

    5. Forming an advisory committee. Forming an advisory committee to oversee the day labor center can help ensure that it runs efficiently, and can also increase the center’s support base. People from many different groups and organizations should serve on the committee. Advisors might include employees from government social-service offices, police officers, area merchants, citizens, employers of day laborers, day laborers themselves, and members of nongovernmental community-service groups.
  4. Establishing supplemental programs at day labor centers. Some communities have implemented service, education, and training programs at day labor centers.[20] These programs provide needed services for day laborers and give them addedS incentives to use the centers. Participation in the supplementary programs also gives laborers constructive ways to spend their time while they are waiting for work. Educational and training programs include English language instruction, computer skills classes, and job preparation programs. Service programs include those for food, clothing, and shelter assistance; immigration services; legal services; banking services†; tool-sharing; and health care referrals. Establishing services and programs from outside groups—government or others—will also give outsiders incentives to manage and maintain the centers.

    † Establishing services to facilitate laborers use of banking services will be particularly relevant for problems involving persistent robbery of day laborers.

  5. Closing streets and alleys, diverting traffic, or regulating parking. Traffic flows and patterns at day laborer sites often pose problems. Altering traffic patterns will make it easy for employers to pick up laborers, and will reduce complaints associated with vehicle and pedestrian traffic obstructions. Establishing designated laborer-pickup zones will also reduce congestion and “swarming” problems. Once traffic procedures are established, it will be necessary to ensure that laborers do not interrupt the process by approaching employer vehicles outside of designated pickup areas. Care should also be taken to ensure that any traffic changes do not cause undue harm to area merchants.

Enforcing Laws

  1. Enforcing laws prohibiting disorder (e.g., trespassing, loitering, public intoxication, littering, and vandalism). Focused enforcement of disorder-related offenses will address some of the commonly found problems associated with day laborer sites. Enforcing these laws requires greater manpower and time spent monitoring the sites. Enforcement alone will not completely stop day laboring or the problems associated with it, but it does send a message to laborers that illegal behavior is unacceptable. Sanctions for lower-level offenses may also serve to remove those problematic laborers who might also commit more-serious crimes.
  2. Enforcing laws prohibiting assault and robbery. Enforcing laws against assault and robbery will further define the boundaries of unacceptable behavior for day laborers. Such offenses will tend to be reactive and will require witnesses for successful prosecution, unless an officer witnesses their occurrence. It will be difficult to develop a prosecutable case since other laborers will be reluctant to give police information out of fear regarding their immigration status. Language deficiencies will also create problems.† To increase success in enforcing these (and other) laws, assigning specific multilingual officers to day labor sites will improve communication between police and laborers, which will prove valuable in gathering information.

    † See “Overcoming Language Barriers: Solutions for Law Enforcement” PDF

  3. Establishing a highly visible police presence. A highly visible police presence, typically with extra uniformed officers, is intended to discourage illegal conduct by day laborers. It may appease area merchants or community members, but could also lead people to believe that the area is unsafe. It is also costly and will likely have only a temporary effect if not followed up with more permanent strategies, such as establishing a police substation in the area.[21] This could be augmented with private security forces.
  4. Creating and enforcing ordinances prohibiting the solicitation of work in non-designated places. Some communities have created city ordinances that prohibit the solicitation of work in certain areas.[22] These ordinances are intended to relocate day laboring to designated places. Unless the ordinances are enforced, day laboring will continue to occur in places that are convenient for laborers and employers, if not for others, even if an authorized day labor center is established. Ordinance enforcement must be comprehensive and continual.
  5. Enhancing fines/penalties for soliciting work or hiring workers in non-specified zones. It may be necessary to enhance the penalties incurred for violating work solicitation in non-designated places. Small fines will likely be viewed as an added cost of doing business. Greater fines will compel day laborers and employers to use designated zones.
  6. Initiating public-awareness campaigns. In conjunction with creating non-solicitation ordinances, some communities have used publicity campaigns to inform day laborers and employers of the new procedures, and to warn them about the sanctions if they violate the ordinances.[23] Alerting the participants serves to remove possible excuses for violating the ordinances.

    Police and others can distribute fliers and post signs at current day-laborer sites. Community service groups as well as area merchants and residents can also disseminate information. The postings and handouts should be composed in the intended audience’s native language. Proper notification of the new ordinances will reduce negative sentiment resulting from subsequent enforcement.

Responses With Limited Effectiveness

  1. Conducting sweeps and enforcing immigration laws. Sweeps are large-scale arrest campaigns targeting suspected illegal immigrants at day labor sites, without the intent to prosecute. Sweeps have long been a police strategy to control visible crime problems (such as street prostitution and street drug markets) when they have been pressured to do something, but have few resources for dealing with the problem. There is little evidence that illegal-immigration sweeps are anything other than temporarily effective at solving the problem.

    Police agencies should be aware that enforcing immigration laws could lead to distrust of the police by illegal immigrants in the community. This could deter such immigrants from calling for police help when they are legitimately victimized or otherwise in need.

  2. Prohibiting day laboring outright. There is no evidence that prohibiting day laboring outright is effective in the long term. Day laboring serves a need in the informal labor market and has existed since early times. De facto prohibition of day laboring by creating ordinances against soliciting work on public street corners citywide may relocate day laboring to other places, but it will not eliminate it or associated problems.