Trump likes to position himself as the “law and order” candidate. He said it about a billion times during the Republican convention and he frequently repeats it on the campaign trail. Like most other ways that Trump describes himself (including “pro-life” and “conservative”), the description immediately falls apart when you ask him to explain what he means by that.
For example, Trump was on Fox News last night, a network he basically owns, being interviewed by softball-tosser Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly asked, very gently, what exactly Trump would do to make America’s cities more safe:
“So, specifically, specifically. How do you do it? How do you do it?” O’Reilly asked.
“I know police in Chicago,” Trump replied. “If they were given the authority to do it, they would get it done.”
“How? How?” O’Reilly pressed.
“You have unbelievable—how? By being very much tougher than they are right now,” Trump said. “They are right now not tough. I mean, I could tell you this very long and quite boring story but when I was in Chicago, I got to meet a couple of very top police. I said, ‘How do you stop this? How do you stop this? If you were put in charge,’ to a specific person, ‘Do you think you could stop it?’ He said, ‘Mr. Trump, I would be able to stop it in one week.’ And I believed him 100 percent.”
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“They are not being respected by our leadership and they literally—they don’t have spirit,” the Republican nominee said. “They lose their spirit. Every time something happens, it’s the police’s fault.”
“Alright. So your tone is pro-police,” O’Reilly said.
“You have to give them back their spirit,” Trump insisted.
“How do you stop the bad guys from attacking them?” O’Reilly asked.
“By giving them back your spirit and by allowing them to go and counterattack,” Trump said.
There’s so much stupidity here it’s difficult to know where to start. To begin with, Chicago has one of the most violent police forces in America, generating far more excessive force complaints than other police departments of similar size. Moreover, Chicago has a notorious culture in which officers who are accused of excessive force are virtually never disciplined:
In 18 years with the Chicago Police Department, the nation’s second-largest, Jerome Finnigan had never been disciplined — although 68 citizen complaints had been lodged against him, including accusations that he used excessive force and regularly conducted illegal searches.
Then, in 2011, he admitted to robbing criminal suspects while serving in an elite police unit and ordering a hit on a fellow police officer he thought intended to turn him in. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. “My bosses knew what I was doing out there, and it went on and on,” he said in court when he pleaded guilty. “And this wasn’t the exception to the rule. This was the rule.”
Mr. Finnigan is one of thousands of Chicago police officers who have been the subject of citizen complaints over the years but have not been disciplined by the department, according to data released this month by the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization, and the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School.
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For example, the data for 2015 shows that in more than 99 percent of the thousands of misconduct complaints against Chicago police officers, there has been no discipline. From 2011 to 2015, 97 percent of more than 28,500 citizen complaints resulted in no officer being punished, according to the files.
Although very few officers were disciplined in the years covered by the data, African-American officers were punished at twice the rate of their white colleagues for the same offenses, the data shows. And although black civilians filed a majority of the complaints, white civilians were far more likely to have their complaints upheld, according to the records.
If you had to think of one large city in America where cops are given carte blanche to use excessive force without fear of official reprisal, Chicago would be it. And yet, this is exactly the city Trump comes up with to illustrate policing that isn’t done by “tough” people.
I’m not really sure which of Trump’s personality traits is behind this remark: his tendency to be absolutely clueless about the facts he is discussing or his tendency to admire totalitarianism. If Trump really thinks that American police departments should be more violent and less accountable than Chicago’s, then we should all be extremely terrified.
Especially since, as nearly everyone has noted, Chicago’s crime problem continues to be one of the worst in the whole country. In other words, “turn the police loose and let them do whatever the hell they want” does NOT actually serve to reduce crime. It turns out, letting the police get away with murder serves mainly to promote disrespect for the rule of law and increase crime. What reduces crime is smart policing that involves rigorous training by police on how to de-escalate confrontations between cops and citizens. Training like the Dallas police department has engaged in:
It’s no surprise to find this happening in Dallas, however. Under Chief Brown, the Dallas Police Department has become one of the best large police departments in the country – if not the very best – at using de-escalation of force and preventing violent contact between citizens and police.
The Dallas PD has in recent years taken seriously training in de-escalation techniques, violence prevention, and civil rights protection. The results have been an astounding success by every metric.
In 2009, 147 excessive force complaints were filed against the Department. Last year, there were only 19. Dallas PD has had, year after year, repeated drops in both officer-involved-shootings AND assaults on officers. And most importantly,violent crime continues to go down in Dallas.
Trump admits that he gets his foreign policy information from watching cable news. It’s clear that he gets his ideas about improving law enforcement from watching 1970s cop movies like Dirty Harry. Trump has completely missed virtually all the hard work done by states like Texas under Governor Rick Perry that has been undertaken to understand how to actually reduce crime instead of shouting neanderthal slogans about “tough cops” and “locking up criminals and throwing away the key.”
I’m sure Trump’s rhetoric has a certain appeal to his own crowd, but the reality is that it doesn’t work. And in fact having him in the oval office might set back much of the progress that has been made over the years on this issue.