Police organizations have high hopes for President-elect Donald Trump. But at the top of their wish list isn’t proposed legislation or policy — rather they hope the self-proclaimed “law and order” candidate can usher in a new era of respect and support for law enforcement.
“The first thing, and something Mr. Trump has already done well, is use the bully pulpit to improve the perception of police officers,” said James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police.
Under the Obama administration, law enforcement leaders say their officers have felt unfairly characterized as villains amid the movement for policing reform and have become targets for hostility.
“We welcome a reset button,” said Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and a former assistant director of the FBI.
When law enforcement now uses deadly force against civilians, there is too often a rush to judgment that condemns officers for their actions even before all the facts are known, said National Sheriff’s Association President Greg Champagne.
“The criminal justice system is not an instantaneous process. It takes time to work,” he said. “All we ask is don’t condemn.”
Mr. Champagne hopes that under the Trump administration, there will be stronger support for law enforcement and a recognition of the tough decisions that officers and deputies have to make every day.
“Together we must reshape the conversation to one which is supportive of law enforcement officers,” Mr. Champagne said. “We must work to reverse the hostility by some towards law enforcement officers that has been allowed to creep in over the last couple of years.”
Mr. Trump’s nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general already is well regarded among law enforcement groups. Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said his group will be looking for strong allies within the Justice Department.
“Whoever is in charge of the Civil Rights Division, they must have close and trusted relationships with police officers and agencies,” he said. “The Obama administration failed miserably in that regard.”
Mr. Pasco said the FOP already has spoken preliminarily with the Trump transition team and hopes to sit down in coming weeks to flesh out priorities.
“I’m not going to hold the president-elect to a laundry list of legislative bills or positions,” he said. “But we would like to see a greater level of federal participation in underwriting costs of policing at state and local levels.”
Beyond tamping down what police believe has been hostile rhetoric, departments are encouraging the Trump administration to back changes that will allow them to better arm themselves, expand access to training and increase penalties for those who attack officers.
One topic of discussion among departments has been the resumption of a program that allowed them access to the Defense Department’s surplus military gear.
The Obama administration last year curtailed the 1033 Program over concern that local police were acquiring equipment that unnecessarily militarized their departments — with civil rights advocates pointing out as a prime example the police response to protests and later riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
Under the Obama administration’s restrictions, items like grenade launchers, bayonets and armored tracked vehicles were banned from transfer to police departments. Other equipment, like battering rams and riot helmets and shields, are still available under the program but require more justification to obtain them.
Following a series of recent attacks carried out by gunmen armed with high-powered rifles — including the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, the mass shooting inside an Orlando nightclub and a sniper’s fatal shooting of five Dallas police officers — law enforcement has sounded the alarm that they need militarized equipment to be able to respond in such circumstances.
“This type of equipment is not offensive, it is defensive in nature,” said Mr. Champagne, who believes the 1033 restrictions could be quickly reversed by Mr. Trump via executive order. “Let us have the equipment that will otherwise be in rust heaps somewhere.”
The fear of an increase in targeted attacks on law enforcement also has led groups to advocate for increased penalties for those who harm or kill officers.
The National Association of Police Organizations is among those urging Mr. Trump to support legislation on a national level that would make the murder or attempted murder of a police officer a federal crime.
“At one level it would send a powerful message that this president is saying this Justice Department is different — they stand up for the men and women of law enforcement,” Mr. Johnson said. “Given the current climate and the tacit support by the administration of these violent protests, that would be a powerful change.”
Adding federal prosecutors to the equation would also bring resources beyond those of state or local attorneys, he said.
President Obama has sought to improve relationships with police in the later part of his term. The comprehensive report issued in 2015 by the Task Force on 21st Century Policing was highly regarded by those in law enforcement, who say it offered a good road map for improving police and community relations while working to reduce crime and build public trust.
Summits at the White House over the summer also brought together more than 300 law enforcement representatives from around the country to discuss best practices in community policing and to provide a forum for agencies to share methods to implement the task force recommendations.
Mr. Hosko hopes Mr. Trump would find a way to continue regular dialogue with law enforcement agencies to stay apprised of the issues they face.
If Mr. Trump wants to continue some of the Obama administration’s work on police reforms, Mr. Hosko suggested he could support efforts to increase the hiring and training of law enforcement. Investment in crisis response training could, for instance, better prepare cops to respond to situations involving the mentally ill, he said.
“Give police some options other than pull out my gun,” Mr. Hosko said. “That takes an investment and putting them in a classroom.”