If President-elect Donald Trump and his Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), need advice on what they can do in the criminal justice arena during Trump’s first 100 days, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is providing it.
The 330,000-member union, the most prominent law enforcement group that supported Trump during the election campaign, has issued a two-page list of executive actions and legislation the new administration can pursue starting next January.
The FOP supports many items on the agenda, but the document does not represent a “wish list” for the group, says executive director Jim Pasco. Rather, he said, it is a prediction of items that Trump and Sessions, along with other federal agencies, may tackle when they take office next year.
Top item on the list is rescinding President Obama’s 2015 order limiting federal surplus equipment that had long been provided to law enforcement. Criticism of the “militarization” of U.S. police increased in reaction to the police response to rioting after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014.
The Obama order bars federal agencies from providing local police items like tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vessels of any kind, grenade launchers, high-caliber firearms and ammunition and bayonets. Some law enforcement officials defended acquiring this kind of equipment for use in controlling rioters.
Another set of items on the FOP list involves ending federal aid to “sanctuary cities” that provide documents like driver’s licenses and other photo identification to those who are in the United States illegally. The FOP does not support the sanctuary city concept but it would oppose any Trump action to deny federal aid to such cities. “We do not support the withholding of public safety funds as a hammer,” Pasco told the Washington Times.
The FOP notes that Trump could expand the so-called 287(g) program in which state and local law enforcement agencies help enforce federal immigration laws.
Also largely as a result of the furor over Ferguson, President Obama named a task force on 21st-century policing that issued a lengthy report last year that the president’s administration is promoting around the nation.
Trump and Sessions could “de-prioritize” pursuing any or all of the group’s recommendations, the FOP says.
The FOP supported many of the task force’s recommendations but opposed others. For example, the union said it would be “needlessly bureaucratic” to have independent agencies such as special prosecutors investigate all cases in which police are accused of wrongdoing.
Trump and Sessions could order the 93 U.S. Attorneys who handle federal prosecutions around the nation to “prioritize violent crimes” and seek the death penalty in cases involving the murder of a law enforcement officer, the FOP says.
Given Trump’s “law and order” campaign theme, it would not be surprising for Sessions to change the priorities of federal prosecutors to stress violent crimes.
Many street crimes can be prosecuted either by federal or local officials, depending on the law that is invoked. In a widely cited program called Project Exile, the U.S. Justice Department has encouraged local authorities to refer cases involving violations of gun laws to federal investigators, because federal law provides for mandatory minimum prison sentences for many such crimes.
The FOP suggests that Trump can reverse what the union calls the ban on racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies, a prohibition that dates from the presidency of George W. Bush.
By executive order, Trump can end the Obama administration’s ban on future contracts to use private prisons for federal inmates and immigration detainees. That seems likely given the president-elect’s statements praising private corrections facilities.
Trump could reverse the recent warming of U.S.-Cuba relations until “cop-killers harbored there” are returned to the U.S., the FOP says.
FOP suggests that Trump will pursue legislation in two criminal justice categories his opening months.
An “End Illegal Immigration Act” would establish a two-year mandatory minimum prison term for those who illegally re-enter the U.S. after a deportation, and a 5-year mandatory term for those with felony convictions who illegally re-enter the country.
The FOP also suggests a “Restoring Community Safety Act” that includes a “task force on violent crime” and an increase in federal funding for local law enforcement.
Trump and Sessions won’t act on every item the FOP listed just because the union endorsed him, but it seems likely that the FOP and the president-elect do see eye to eye on many issues.
When the FOP endorsed Trump in September, its president, Chuck Canterbury, said the Republican “has seriously looked at the issues facing law enforcement today.” The FOP noted that Trump had answered a questionnaire from the union, but Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton refused to do so.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcomed.