Pledging to support police officers on the front lines of the battle against violent criminal gangs, President Trump hoped to show Friday that he was in lockstep with law enforcement.
But some law enforcement groups have sought to distance themselves from comments the president made during the speech in which he told police they shouldn’t be “too nice” to criminal suspects.
“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,’” said Mr. Trump, addressing a crowd in New York’s Suffolk County.
“Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?” he continued. “Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head? I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?’”
The comment elicited laughter and applause from some, including uniformed law enforcement, in the audience.
But afterward, the Suffolk County Police Department backpedaled from the president’s comments and issued a statement noting the department has “strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners.”
“Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously,” read a statement from the agency. “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.”
The department may have felt more need than most to distance itself from the president’s comments as its officers were among those in the backdrop of the event and because a former police chief was convicted last year of beating a handcuffed theft suspect and orchestrating a cover-up of the incident.
Following Mr. Trump’s comments, the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a statement laying out the need for use-of-force policies among police departments.
“Law enforcement officers are trained to treat all individuals, whether they are a complainant, suspect, or defendant, with dignity and respect,” read the IACP statement, which did not mention Mr. Trump. “This is the bedrock principle behind the concepts of procedural justice and police legitimacy.”
Civil rights groups also criticized the remarks, with the American Civil Liberties Union saying they would exacerbate tension between police and civilians.
“The president today told a group of police officers, ‘We have your backs 100 percent,’ if they gratuitously hurt people whom they suspect of a criminal offense,” Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “By encouraging police to dole out extra pain at will, the president is urging a kind of lawlessness that already imperils the health and lives of people of color at shameful rates.”
Likewise, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund criticized the comments as endangering those taken into police custody.
The President’s mocking of the treatment of arrestees as they are escorted into a police vehicle is particularly reprehensible in light of the police in-custody death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, where this administration’s Justice Department has attempted to impede the implementation of much-needed policing reform,” said Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the fund.
Mr. Trump also vowed in his speech to support law enforcement officers by ensuring his administration made surplus military equipment available to police.
“You are saving American lives every day and, believe me, we have your backs,” he said. “We have your backs 100 percent. Not like the old days. Not like the old days.”
That promise also drew concern from Amnesty International, which opposes the program.
“Needlessly equipping officers in a manner more suited to a battlefield than Main Street automatically places them in a confrontational stance with the people they are sworn to protect,” said Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs at Amnesty International USA. “Police cannot treat every community like an invading army, and encouraging violence by police is irresponsible and reprehensible.”