In a remarkable departure from his own Chief Executive, the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Agency Chuck Rosenberg has repudiated the remarks of President Donald Trump that encouraged law enforcement officers to abuse criminal suspects. We previously discussed those irresponsible remarks. While the White House dismissed questions from reporters by saying that the President was just joking, it did not explain why the President would think it was funny to harm suspects or what message such a joke sends to law enforcement after assuring them that “we have your back.” Rosenberg told DEA officers that the President was condoning police misconduct and that he would not.
In his remarks, the President told police not to be “too nice” to suspects:
“Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
Rosenberg did what the Attorney General, the new FBI Director, and others failed to do. (Sessions reportedly told people it was a joke and defended the President in private). He correctly repudiated the comments and told his law enforcement officers that such abuse would not be tolerated. In a memo to DEA agents, Rosenberg stated:
“The president, in remarks delivered yesterday in New York, condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement. I write to offer a strong reaffirmation of the operating principles to which we, as law enforcement professionals, adhere. I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong. That’s what law enforcement officers do. That’s what you do. We fix stuff. At least, we try.”
If the President was joking, this was not funny. We pride ourselves on a professional cadre of law enforcement officers who are trained to protect suspects as well as the public. It is a hard and often thankless job. The President belittles those men and women by joking about slamming the heads of suspects into police cruisers. Having worked with and represented law enforcement officers for years, I was disheartened to hear the audience laugh at the comments. What the President was joking about was the violation of the constitutional rights of suspects as well as the violation of governing statutory and regulatory standards. For police, it is like joking with a conference of doctors about not worrying about harming or killing patients. Moreover, such comments make the work of our police more difficult, not easier, in working with the public and potential witnesses or victims.