Trump's Steady Pro-Police Stance

His support for law enforcement—aside from the FBI leadership—has been consistent and a sharp departure, in many policy areas, from President Obama.

Blue lights illuminate the White House on May 15 in honor of Peace Officers Memorial Day.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Aug. 23, 2018, 8 p.m.

Even in a week when he is under fresh legal assault and sounding like a mob boss complaining about former-allies-turned-felons “flipping” on him, President Trump has pressed forward with his campaign to assure police that he is the best friend that law enforcement has ever had in the Oval Office.

In a White House not noted for its follow-through, and for a president not noted for his discipline, Trump’s cultivation of the nation’s police stands out as an exception. From the earliest days of his campaign through his 19 months in office, the president has consistently shaped policy and sent personal signals that, as he told a law enforcement audience in Long Island in July 2017, “We have your backs 100 percent.” From “Day One” of his administration, he told them, “We love our police. We love our sheriffs. And we love our ICE officers.” In case anyone missed that he was taking a different approach from his predecessor in the White House, he stressed, “Not like the old days. Not like the old days.”

On this, the White House is relentlessly on message. On a personal level, Trump reacts to all attacks on law enforcement officers, making calls and issuing statements. On trips, he always thanks police and poses for pictures with them. On a policy level, he tries to fill the wish lists of law enforcement. A regular fixture on his schedule are events designed to trumpet his support. The most recent was Monday’s “salute to the heroes” when he gathered immigration officers in the East Room.

“We condemn these shameful attacks on our great law enforcement,” he said to applause, adding, “The Republicans were with you all the way. All the way. And we won. We actually, we won.” He decried what he called “this new wave of anti-borders, anti-law-enforcement extremism,” saying it was “horrible in every way.” To more applause, he pledged, “I will never leave your side. I will never leave the fight. I will never, ever, let you down.”

The fact that he so often couples this praise with fierce attacks on prosecutors and the FBI is not seen as a contradiction in Trump World. “Criticizing 5 lawyer bureaucrats at the top of the FBI is not attacking the boots on the ground,” explained the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., in a February tweet. “We support the doers... Boots Not Suits!”

Here are 10 ways the president has demonstrated that commitment, from when speakers at the 2016 Republican National Convention led chants of “Blue Lives Matter,” to today when he shapes his policies to please police:

Rhetoric and outreach to police.

Trump started sending signals within minutes of taking the oath of office. Among the first statements put on the White House website after he took control was one entitled “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.” In it, he declared, “The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.” He called mayors when police in their cities were attacked. He called for the death penalty for cop killers. A man not noted for his empathy, he even showed a human touch in May, hugging and kissing the 90-year-old mother of a slain New York City officer.

Urging police to not fear being rough with suspects.

Nothing Trump has said about police was more controversial—and more concerning to many police chiefs—than what he told officers in Suffolk County, New York, on July 28, 2017. “Please don’t be too nice” to suspects, he said, saying they could stop shielding the heads of suspects when putting them in cars. Within two hours, the Suffolk County Police Department stated “we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.” The White House insisted Trump was “joking,” but the message was sent to all police.

Empowering police with early executive orders.

On Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, 2017, in his first three weeks in office, the president issued executive orders giving more power to local police, allowing them to detain immigrants solely for federal immigration enforcement, and promising to federalize offenses against them. “It’s a shame what has been happening to our great, our truly great, law enforcement officers,” he said. “That is going to stop today.”

Ending Obama oversight of local police departments.

Less than a month after he was confirmed as attorney general, Jeff Sessions ended the Obama administration’s monitoring of troubled police departments accused of civil-rights violations. The program, he suggested, worked to “diminish the effectiveness” of the police. No more would the Justice Department sue police departments for violating the civil rights of minorities and no more would the feds oversee local departments’ work to improve their practices.

Supporting Chicago police in dispute with mayor.

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel endorsed a federal consent degree to improve police dealings with minorities, Chicago police protested. Trump tweeted that they “have every right to legally protest against the mayor and an administration that just won’t let them do their job.”

Using bully pulpit.

Trump made sure that both his Inaugural Address and his first address to a joint session of Congress included praise for police. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said at his inauguration about crime, while praising “the great men and women of our military and law enforcement.” At his congressional speech, he said, “We must support the incredible men and women of law enforcement.”

Presidential tweets.

“Go police,” he tweeted during the campaign. After 18 days in the White House, he tweeted “you have a true friend in the @WhiteHouse. We support you!” Since then he has tweeted against “anti-police agitators” and promised to “stand with our police (HEROES) 100%!”

Refusing to criticize police for shootings of African-Americans.

In what The Washington Times called “a sea change for law enforcement,” the Trump White House has assiduously refused to comment on police killings of African-Americans. Where Obama often lamented such killings and launched federal investigations, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders routinely insists they are a “local matter” and “not something for the federal government to weigh into.”

Bathing the White House in blue.

On May 15, 2017, the president ordered that the White House be illuminated in blue light to commemorate Peace Officers Memorial Day “in humble appreciation of our hard-working law enforcement officers.” Obama had not issued a similar order.

Lifting ban on police use of surplus military equipment.

In the wake of rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, Obama issued an executive order in 2015 limiting the military equipment that the federal government would transfer to local police departments. The equipment included tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, bayonets, battering rams, and explosives. Obama worried that police equipped with such gear would look like “an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community ...” Trump brushed aside such concerns in August 2017 and rescinded Obama’s order.

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