By Molly Curley O’Brien , MBA/MPP candidate 2019
At the Republican Convention in July, President Donald Trump declared that “on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored.”
On President Trump’s 100th day in office, his safety restoration project has a long way to go. Flanked by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump is pushing a new commitment to enforcing the law and developing policies that address illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime. The Trump Administration is trying to make America safe again by resurrecting the War on Drugs, forcing local law enforcement to follow federal immigration law, creating a Sessions-led task force to reduce crime, and considering militarizing officers. The thing is, the rhetoric and subsequent actions coming from Trump and Sessions are affecting safety in our cities and communities, as well as the safety of police officers.
For example, Trump wants law enforcement to reimplement stop and frisk. With stop and frisk back in the fold it just got a whole lot more unsafe to be a Black man in America walking down the street, considering the egregious racial profiling that accompanies stop and frisk. And when folks don’t feel safe in their own communities, it erodes trust in the police.
New York Magazine’s Jesse Singal said “there’s a reason smart, progressive crime and policing experts often talk about the importance of trust, of building bonds with the community being policed. People don’t want to live in high-crime neighborhoods. They want to help. But it makes it harder for them when they feel like their own dignity or safety is being threatened by the very people there to protect them.” And the White House has got to start discussing community policing – this smart, progressive, trust building, relationship bridge thing Singal talks about. Like, ASAP.
We live in an era of racial bias in policing, but also an era in which you can’t pay someone enough money to be a law enforcement officer. According to a recent Pew Research survey, 86 percent of police officers say high-profile incidents have made their jobs more difficult, and 93 percent say officers have become more concerned with their safety.
Sessions is hell-bent on his new crime task force, but he should take some notes from one implemented not so long ago. In 2014, Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing published a report providing recommendations on police reform and how to create safer communities across the country. The report saw community policing as the direct line to trust and stated that “trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy. It is key to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services.”
But in this Post Obama America, the American narrative is drastically changing. With racism, xenophobia, and alternative facts running haywire, it seems unlikely that community policing can be the silver bullet Obama intended.
So when Trump said that safety would be restored, what safety was he referring to? Who was he thinking it would be restored for, when everyone is feeling like a target?
One hundred days in, it’s apparent that, between Trump and Sessions, community policing is not long for this world. It seems that, while our criminal justice system operates mostly at the local and state level, the executive branch may federalize as much as they can. Giving tanks to police officers will not make streets safer. Forcing officers to work with Homeland Security will not weed out criminals. Implementing stop-and-frisk tactics won’t mitigate potential criminal activity. These examples will divide us and fuel mistrust.
Decrees from our esteemed 45th president be damned. The key to restoring safety is not draconian law and order, but community policing. Otherwise, Day 101 will offer nothing but more bombastic rhetoric, continuing to perpetuate the same unstable climate. Trust me.