On Friday, President Donald Trump did something that no president in the history of the United States has been able to do: Unite police chiefs across the country against him.
During a speech to law enforcement on July 28, President Trump encouraged police officers to use violence against suspects, telling them “don’t be too nice” to people who are arrested. Trump made the comments at a gathering of law enforcement officers at Suffolk County Community College in New York.
Within hours, The Washington Post reports, police leaders across the country denounced Trump’s “deplorable” remarks and quickly distanced themselves from his statements about “roughing up” people who’ve been arrested.
The swift public denunciations came as departments are under intense pressure to stamp out brutality and excessive force that can erode the relationship between officers and the people they police — and cost police chiefs their jobs.
Police leaders worried that Trump’s “insane” remarks could upend nearly three decades of fence-mending since the 1991 Los Angeles Police Department beating of Rodney King ushered in an era of distrust of police.
“It’s the wrong message,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told Washington radio station WTOP while speaking of the trust-building work that departments have undertaken since King’s beating. “The last thing we need is a green light from the president of the United States for officers to use unnecessary force.”
“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?” Trump said, miming the physical motion of an officer shielding a suspect’s head to keep it from bumping against the squad car.
“Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head,” Trump continued. “I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
Across the country, police department leaders said the president’s words didn’t reflect their views.
In a statement to Patch.com, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said:
“Seattle’s police officers have embraced reform and have worked incredibly hard to build community trust. We do not intend to go backwards. We remain committed to our principles and reject irresponsible statements that threaten to undermine our relationship with the community.”
Statements from other police leaders followed:
It's disappointing & disheartening to hear our Commander in Chief encourage & condone violation of suspect's rights. https://t.co/Bij8eHByiX
— Chief Jim Ferraris (@chiefferraris) 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
The @POTUS made remarks today that endorsed and condoned police brutality.
GPD rejects these remarks and continues to serve with respect.
— Gainesville Police (@GainesvillePD) July 29, 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
To be clear, inappropriate attempt at gallows humor does not reflect values of respect & commitment to constitutional policing of profession https://t.co/lGJeLa6nm1
— Chief Art Acevedo (@ArtAcevedo) July 28, 2017
Well said, Chief. I could not have said it better so I will not try. https://t.co/7WTxBAdq7G
— Fred Fletcher (@ChiefFletcher) July 28, 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
Let's go backwards@thom_hartman this is not good for our country. https://t.co/BZ9FFNSyox
— Chief Clarence Cox (@Cox_Chief) July 28, 2017