Police leaders across the country were quick to distance themselves from President Donald Trump’s statements over the weekend after he encouraged law enforcement officers “not to be too nice” to the suspects they arrest.
Condemnation was swift, as Trump’s remarks threatened to upend police department’s ongoing efforts to stamp out excessive use of force and mend the relationship between police and the communities they serve — especially at a time of increased, high-profile incidents of police brutality.
“It just — it’s the wrong message,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told Washington station WTOP, adding that police agencies across the U.S. have worked hard to rebuild community trust since the Los Angeles Police Department’s brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991.
“The last thing we need is a green light from the president of the United States for officers to use unnecessary force,” Wexler added.
The president’s comments came Saturday, July 29, as he addressed a sea of uniformed officers at Suffolk County Community College in New York. After speaking on local cities affected by increased gang violence, Trump insisted that officers need not be too careful when handling those arrested for a crime.
“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put [your] hand over?” the president said, miming the physical motion of an officer protecting a suspect’s head to keep it from bumping against the police cruiser. “Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, ‘You can take the hand away, okay? ‘”
“Now, we’re getting them out anyway, but we’d like to get them out a lot faster,” he added. “And 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. ‘”
Across the country, law enforcement leaders made it clear that the president’s comments didn’t reflect their values. Several critics rebuked him altogether, and accused the former reality TV star of encouraging police violence.
In a tweet following Trump’s appearance, the Suffolk County Police Department wrote, “The SCPD has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. And violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.”
“As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners,” a second tweet read.
Several current and former police agency leaders followed suit, taking to social media to blast the president for his comments.
The @POTUS made remarks today that endorsed and condoned police brutality.
GPD rejects these remarks and continues to serve with respect.
— gainesvillepd (@GainesvillePD) July 29, 2017
It is our sworn duty to protect people from unjustified violence and harm, no matter who disagrees.https://t.co/ouDLXH6JfY
— Burlington Police (@OneNorthAvenue) July 29, 2017
Portland Police Bureau officers are expected to treat everyone with dignity & respect, even when they are a suspect. https://t.co/f2bdGCIbcr
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) July 29, 2017
I'm a cop.
I do not agree with or condone @POTUS remarks today on police brutality.
Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed.
— Ben Tobias (@GPDBenTobias) July 28, 2017
As a former Police Chief I am deeply disappointed and disturbed by President Trump's statement on use of force. pic.twitter.com/wh5l33hIvu
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) July 29, 2017
The president’s remarks also drew a response from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Although the organization stopped short of mentioning Trump by name, it seemingly responded to his speech by stressing the importance of maintaining the safety of innocent bystander and “even those suspected or apprehended for criminal activity.”
International Association of Chiefs of Police responds to Trump's remarks about police use of force: pic.twitter.com/FQ05oO7m90
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 28, 2017