On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump delivered a speech to a convention of the Major County Sheriffs’ Association and Major Cities Chiefs Association in Washington, D.C.
After spending the first several minutes of his remarks commenting on the legality of the travel restriction executive order now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the president spent the remainder of his 25-minute remarks making a number of important comments that clearly marked a distinct turn from the rhetoric of the Obama administration.
Here are three key takeaways from Trump’s speech.
1. Renewed respect for law enforcement.
Trump told the audience, comprised of law enforcement leadership from the nation’s largest cities and counties, “We have to allow you folks to do your job. You’re great people, great men and women … We have to give you the weapons that you need.”
Trump also declared that his administration would have a “zero tolerance policy for acts of violence against law enforcement.”
This message of encouragement and empowerment toward the American law enforcement community has been lacking for several years.
President Barack Obama spared almost no opportunity to chide both the law enforcement community and criminal justice system at large when speaking on issues concerning the police.
For instance, in the immediate aftermath of the police shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, he suggested the shootings were a direct result of widespread racial inequities in the criminal justice system. “These are not isolated incidents,” the president said, “they are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”
Though the incidents in question had only recently occurred and Obama in no way could have known the specific details of what happened, he nonetheless went out of his way to make this claim.
Trump’s rhetoric appears to reject the knee-jerk reactions of the Obama administration on matters involving law enforcement.
Rather than taking the default posture of skepticism toward law enforcement that marked the Obama presidency, Trump appears to be offering a much more full-throated endorsement of the law enforcement community.
“Our police officers and sheriff’s deputies risk their lives every day,” Trump said, “and they’re entitled to an administration that has their back.
2. Confidence in our police.
Trump touched on a less discussed issue in the broader struggle concerning public safety in the 21st century: confidence in our police.
In his remarks he stated, “The first step in restoring public safety is affirming our confidence in the men and women charged with upholding our laws.”
The president’s call for the American people to affirm their confidence in the law enforcement community is vital to restoring both trust and an effective working relationship between the police and the public they serve.
— Nat Sheriffs’ Assoc. (@NationalSheriff) February 8, 2017
A near constant refrain of negativity and skepticism directed toward law enforcement over the past several years has had a debilitating effect on the efficacy of our nation’s police officers at reducing and responding to crime and social dysfunction.
Public confidence in the police reached a 22-year low in 2015, with only 55 percent of Americans having “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in law enforcement.
This metric was no doubt influenced by the repeated rush-to-judgment declarations by many people of influence—including Obama—that the officers engaged in highly publicized incidents were either racially insensitive at best or outright criminals at worst.
A more measured approach to highly publicized or controversial incidents involving law enforcement is vital to restoring the public’s confidence in the law enforcement community, as well as inhibiting the perpetuation of misinformation and dangerously demagogic rhetoric.
3. Restoring protection to poor communities.
In a comment on the rising violent crime rate in many of America’s largest cities, Trump stated, “When policing is reduced, crime is increased and our poorest citizens suffer the most.”
This may seem like an intuitive correlation, but for many this reality seems to have largely been lost. As police officers have come under fire in recent years, demeaned and vilified, proactive policing has suffered.
Hobbled by the so-called Ferguson effect, officers are less inclined today to make stops on suspicious people or arrest individuals for misdemeanor crimes lest their actions be misconstrued or their motives impugned.
Those most affected by spikes in crime rates—particularly violent crime—are in fact many of our fellow citizens living in our poorest communities.
To better serve all of our citizens, it is incumbent upon society to empower law enforcement to do the very job they signed up to do. In his remarks, Trump appeared to reiterate his support for doing just that.