The National Fraternal Order of Police came to President Trump’s defense after some law enforcement agencies sought to distance themselves from his comments that police shouldn’t be “too nice” to criminal suspects.
Noting every arrestee is entitled to due process, FOP President Chuck Canterbury said Mr. Trump’s off-the-cuff comments on Friday were being taken “too literally.”
“The president knows, just as every cop out there knows, that our society does not, and should not, tolerate the mistreatment or prejudgment of any individual at any point in the criminal justice process,” Mr. Canterbury said over the weekend.
Mr. Trump hoped to show that he was in lockstep with law enforcement as he spoke before New York police officers Friday about efforts to battle violent criminal gangs.
But his speech generated controversy, with some law enforcement groups seeking to distance themselves from some of his comments about police interactions with criminal suspects.
“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough. I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” Mr. Trump said, addressing a crowd in New York’s Suffolk County.
“Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?” he continued. “Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head? I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?’”
The comment elicited laughter and applause from some in the audience, including uniformed law enforcers.
But afterward, the Suffolk County Police Department issued a statement noting it has “strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners.”
“Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously,” read a statement from the agency. “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.”
The department may have felt more need than most to distance itself from the president’s comments as its officers were among those in the backdrop of the event and because a former police chief was convicted last year of beating a handcuffed theft suspect and orchestrating a cover-up of the incident.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police also issued a statement after the president’s remarks reminding of the need for use-of-force policies among police departments.
“Law enforcement officers are trained to treat all individuals, whether they are a complainant, suspect, or defendant, with dignity and respect,” the IACP statement reads. The statement did not mention Mr. Trump. “This is the bedrock principle behind the concepts of procedural justice and police legitimacy.”
Civil rights groups that have spoken out against a number of Mr. Trump’s policies were critical of the remarks, with the American Civil Liberties Union saying the comments would exacerbate tension between police and civilians.
“The president today told a group of police officers, ‘We have your backs 100 percent,’ if they gratuitously hurt people whom they suspect of a criminal offense,” said Jeffrey Robinson, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “By encouraging police to dole out extra pain at will, the president is urging a kind of lawlessness that already imperils the health and lives of people of color at shameful rates.”
Likewise, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund criticized the comments as endangering those taken into police custody.
“The president’s mocking of the treatment of arrestees as they are escorted into a police vehicle is particularly reprehensible in light of the police in-custody death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, where this administration’s Justice Department has attempted to impede the implementation of much-needed policing reform,” said Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the fund.
Mr. Canterbury said taken as a whole, Mr. Trump’s speech showed the president very strongly supports rank-and-file police officers.
“There isn’t another politician out there today who empathizes more with our members than the president does — and nobody appreciates him more than the 332,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police!” he said.
Mr. Trump also vowed in his speech to support law enforcement officers by ensuring his administration makes surplus military equipment available to police.
“You are saving American lives every day and, believe me, we have your backs,” Mr. Trump said. “We have your backs 100 percent. Not like the old days. Not like the old days.”
But that promise also drew concern from Amnesty International, which opposes the program.
“Needlessly equipping officers in a manner more suited to a battlefield than Main Street automatically places them in a confrontational stance with the people they are sworn to protect,” said Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs at Amnesty International USA. “Police cannot treat every community like an invading army, and encouraging violence by police is irresponsible and reprehensible.”