Monday, July 27, 2009

When President Obama took a verbal swipe at a police officer who had arrested a friend of his for disorderly conduct, many law enforcement officers took the president’s statements as evidence of his disdain for local cops. The Cambridge Police Department “acted stupidly,” the president declared after saying he was unfamiliar with the details of the incident.

Cambridge, Mass., Police Sgt. James Crowley arrested professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in an incident he characterized as disorderly conduct after Mr. Gates became verbally abusive. Sgt. Crowley, a decorated veteran officer, said the incident was regrettable and initially declined to criticize the president. However, other police officers have made their views known.

“The fact that the president spoke about an incident he really knew nothing about was unprofessional and disgraceful for a man in his position,” said one New Jersey police chief who requested anonymity because he reports to a Democratic mayor who supports Mr. Obama. “I believe it’s an indication of his lack of respect for local police officers, possibly because he cannot control them directly as he can federal law enforcement agencies.

“An example of this attitude toward police officers may be a reason why [state and local] cops were excluded from having a seat at the table of a new federal law enforcement advisory board,” he added.

The board in question is the Department of Homeland Security Federal Law Enforcement Advisory Board, a panel of federal law enforcement officers led by the DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s law enforcement adviser, Charles Marino. The advisory board will advise Ms. Napolitano on a wide range of homeland-security-related law enforcement training, operations and policy activities. It comprises the executive board of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) and representatives of the National Treasury Employees Union and the National Border Patrol Council. FLEOA represents about 23,000 federal law enforcement officials, including members of all DHS federal law enforcement components.

Mr. Marino came to the secretary’s office from the U.S. Secret Service, where he served in the Presidential Protective Division, the New York Field Office and the Office of Government and Public Affairs. “Close coordination between DHS and its federal law enforcement partners is essential to securing the country,” Ms. Napolitano said. “The unique insights and expertise of the advisory board will be a valuable resource as we work together to protect the American people.”

However, not all the nation’s law enforcement executives and commanders are excited about the creation of this new board. The major problem with it, police commanders say, is its lack of representatives from state and local police departments.

“While Napolitano’s goal may be admired, her execution of her policy is contrary to what the Homeland Security Department was created for,” said one city police chief, who requested anonymity. “Instead of discussing homeland security issues — including illegal aliens — with local cops, she has decided to stick to federal law enforcement agencies who continue to display an air of superiority.”

Respected state and local law enforcement organizations such as the Fraternal Order of Police (with 350,000 members), the National Association of Chiefs of Police (with 14,000 members) and the American Federation of Police (with 102,000 members) have been excluded from this vital advisory role.

Rather than pursue a back-and-forth with reporters and the public over his tactless comments — including his statement that police acted “stupidly” — Mr. Obama should take this opportunity to begin to address issues of concern to law enforcement personnel.

For example, a recent poll by the National Association of Chiefs of Police revealed that almost 30 percent of local police departments — suburban and rural agencies — had not yet participated in anti-terrorism and all-hazard response training offered by the federal government.

The president should direct the Justice and Homeland Security departments to include local law enforcement in federal training programs as they relate to terrorism, organized crime and drug enforcement. Apologies by government officials may be fashionable these days, but actions always speak louder than words.

Jim Kouri is vice president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

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