As the ambush of two police officers in Miami last week reminds us, the war on police, fomented to some extent by former President Obama and his cronies, is not over.
But in the two months since President Trump took office, things are much more positive in the law enforcement community.
Trump, who was unapologetically pro-police from the outset of his campaign, has demonstrated since becoming president that his campaign promises were not just talk.
In his first two weeks in office, he signed a series of executive orders designed to curb violence against law enforcement, reduce crime, and enforce federal law to rein in transnational criminal organizations.
He had a statement posted to the White House website that said, “The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration. President Trump will honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public. The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.”
He used the high-profile occasion of his late-February speech to Congress to reiterate his strong endorsement of the work police do. “We must work with – not against –the men and women of law enforcement,” the president said in his speech to Congress. “We must build bridges of cooperation and trust – not drive the wedge of disunity and division.”
And, of course, he appointed Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a noted advocate of law enforcement, to be Attorney General.
President Trump aims to change the anti-police narrative, relentlessly and continually expounded by Obama and the Eric Holder-Loretta Lynch Justice Department. That campaign began with Obama’s remark that police were “stupid” in the way they handled the confrontation with Harvard Law Professor Henry Louis Gates, and it continued with his immediate condemnation of police in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Obama’s ambivalence—and sometimes even hostility—toward the police may have played well to his liberal base, but it had a real impact on the lives of Americans—and that impact was not positive.
It led to the “Ferguson effect”—the reluctance of police to become involved in confrontations, investigations, and arrests that are no-win situations for them.
That, in turn, led to police going on defense and criminals on offense, which led to chronic offenders remaining on the streets to commit additional crimes, which led to generational increases in crime rates in major cities across America.
Baltimore set records for murders in 2015, and crime jumped more than 50 percent in Washington, D.C., that year. Shootings in Chicago returned to numbers not seen since the violent 1990s with an astounding 4,400 people shot and 760 murdered in 2016. Most of the victims were black – 900 more black men were killed in 2015 than the year before.
The former president’s rhetoric fueled a protest movement led by Black Lives Matter and other radical groups, who claimed the entire law enforcement apparatus to be a racist enterprise and drug laws to be a means by which our country seeks to reinstitute slavery. Black Lives Matter activists were regular visitors to the White House, to “help mend frayed ties between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” according to one of them.
Police officers knew well before the election they had a friend in Trump, which is why a poll shortly before the election by Police Magazine found Trump with 84 percent support among the men and women in blue to 8 percent for Hillary Clinton.
Not all the increase in crime can be blamed on Obama but as Heather MacDonald—one of the nation’s leading authorities on crime and policing—said in her 2016 book The War on Cops:
As 2015 progressed, few law-enforcement practices escaped attack for allegedly imposing unjust burdens on blacks. But it was the virulent anti-cop rhetoric that was most consequential. Officers working in inner cities routinely found themselves surrounded by hostile, jeering crowds when they tried to make an arrest or conduct an investigation. Cops feared becoming the latest YouTube pariah when a viral cell-phone video showed them using force against a suspect who had been resisting arrest.
There is no hard evidence yet, but it seems morale among police is improving and the kind of violent and radical opposition seen last summer is abating.
Attorney General Sessions has sent strong signals he will bring a refreshing support for prosecutors and law enforcement officers, push back on the Ferguson Effect, which has led to less proactive policing in dangerous communities, and change the climate in which law enforcement is maligned for what he calls “the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors.”
For better or worse, President Trump is learning his words carry tremendous weight. America’s police officers are listening, and one can’t help but be optimistic those words will have an impact on their work and, eventually, the crime rate.
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