Trump remark draws police ‘whoa’
No ‘roughing up’ prisoners, law enforcement officials say
President Donald Trump’s statement that police should not be “too nice” while transporting suspects drew laughter and cheers from a crowd of officers Friday, but police officials swiftly made it clear that they did not find the words funny.
From New York to Los Angeles, law enforcement authorities criticized the president’s remarks. Experts worried that his words would encourage inappropriate use of force.
The criticism online started shortly after Trump made his comments at an event in Brentwood, N.Y. The remarks were intended to offer support for police in their fight against the La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a gang that has been accused of several killings on Long Island.
After calling for more immigration officers to help arrest the gang members, Trump told officers, “Please don’t be too nice.”
“Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put your hand over” the head, he said, putting his hand atop his head in a demonstration. “You can take the hand away, OK?”
The president’s remark was denounced by police officials and organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Police Foundation and Steve Soboroff, one of the civilian commissioners who oversees the Los Angeles Police Department.
“What the president recommended would be out of policy in the Los Angeles Police Department,” Soboroff told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s not what policing is about today.”
In New York, the Suffolk County Police Department, which had officers who attended Trump’s speech, responded within two hours.
“As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners,” the department said on Twitter. The department “has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners,” it said in another post. “Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.”
The White House did not return messages seeking comment Saturday. Some supporters rallied to Trump’s defense, including the police group Blue Lives Matter, which said on Twitter that the remark was obviously a joke.
Trump’s words were particularly sensitive in Suffolk County.
The county’s Police Department agreed to federal oversight in 2013 after it was accused of discriminating against Hispanics. And a former police chief, James Burke, was sentenced in November to 46 months in federal prison for beating up a man who had stolen a duffel bag containing pornography and sex toys from Burke’s car, and for attempting to cover up the assault and other misdeeds. Other officers also pleaded guilty in that case.
On Saturday, Matthew Tuohy, a criminal defense attorney in Suffolk County, said that while he believed the president’s remarks were intended to be humorous, the reaction from officers in the crowd “exemplifies the mindset and today’s culture” in law enforcement on Long Island.
In New York City, the president’s comment and the reaction from the crowd recalled the days of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was accused at times of ignoring inappropriate behavior by police. Before becoming mayor, he opposed a proposal to create a civilian board to review police conduct and famously rallied a rowdy demonstration of officers against the idea.
In a statement Saturday, New York Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said the department’s training and policies about the use of force “only allow for measures that are reasonable and necessary under any circumstances, including the arrest and transportation of prisoners.”
“To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public,” he added.