Cops and Politics: Crossing the Thin Blue Line

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Dallas police officers at the 33rd annual national Peace Officers Memorial Day Services on the U.S. Capitol Grounds, May, 2014. Photo by Elvert Barnes via Flickr

On Sunday, a New York City police officer was suspended without pay after he was encouraging Brooklyn residents to continue to film him using his patrol car’s loudspeaker to blare “Trump 2020.”

This is the most recent incident of a police officer publicly disregarding public conduct guidelines to support a presidential candidate, according to the Washington Post. 

“Trump 2020” the off-duty officer can be heard saying from the patrol vehicle parked in Flatbush, according to a video of the Saturday night incident. The officer said to bystanders recording, “Take a picture, take a picture, take a video.”

Screenshot of the scene in the NYPD video filmed by bystanders via Twitter.

The officer continued, saying, “Put it on your Facebook, put it on your YouTube, have some fun.”

After the officer was confronted by someone recording the video, the officer can be heard calling out to the citizen as he walked away, calling him a “tough guy, tough guy.”

Within minutes of the officer’s social media push, the incident was uploaded and has been viewed about two million times on multiple social media platforms by Monday morning, according to the Washington Post.

Following the social media firestorm, the New York City Police Department announced that the unidentified officer was suspended, pending an investigation for “using a department vehicle’s loudspeaker for political purposes.”

New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea condemned the incident, calling it “one hundred percent unacceptable.” Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) promised “swift action” to prevent future incidents of officers promoting their personal political beliefs on the job — especially less than two weeks away from the presidential election. 

According to the NYPD patrol guide, members on duty or in uniform are prohibited from:

…endorsing political candidates or publicly expressing personal views and opinions concerning the merits of: any political party or candidate for public office; any public policy matter or legislation pending before any government body; or any matter to be decided by a pubic election, except with the permission of the police commissioner.

This weekend’s incident appears to be the latest example of an officer going against their department’s public conduct guidelines to support Trump’s reelection. 

Daniel Ubeda, a Miami police officer, is under investigation after he wore a “Trump 2020” face mask while in full uniform at a polling site last week, the Washington Post also reports.  

Steve Simeonidis, chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, was at the polling site when he encountered Ubeda, and said he was “shocked” to see the emblazoned mask. 

The original photo of the officer posted by Simeonidis via Twitter.

“This is city-funded voter intimidation,” Simeonidis tweeted alongside a photo of the officer. “Not only is this an egregious form of voter intimidation, but it’s also a crime.” 

Both the Miami Police Department and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R ) condemned the officer’s actions, saying “Ubeda is under investigation and will be disciplined for violating department policy.”

While some officers are having their conduct questioned over their overt political alignment, many advocates are quick to mention that police unions across the country have embraced Trump and advocated for his reelection.

This, many say, sends the wrong message to diverse communities. 

Last August, as Trump was accepting the endorsement from the Police Benevolent Association, which represents New York City police officers, Trump said, “My agenda is anti-crime and pro-cop all the way, and that’s what it’s got to be.”

Jim Pasco, the Fraternal Order of Police’s executive director, spoke with NPR reporters after their nationally recognized group endorsed him as well, saying, “We only have two candidates to choose from. We choose the one who supports us.”

William Jones a University of Minnesota professor who’s studying the history of police unions,  says police are responding out  of frustration and resentment over what they consider the lack of support in the current political climate.

“The police used to be able to count on supporters from the law-and-order wings of both parties,” he said.

“You’ve seen on the right, particularly under Trump, a sort of ramping up and sort of hyperpoliticization of those law-and-order politics to say that, you know, there is no room for any criticism of police.

 “And that’s something new.”

Nevertheless, police officers are not monolithic when it comes to politics and ideologies. Some Black police officers from across the country have protested their own union’s endorsement of President Trump.

Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal speaking to a crowd against the union endorsement of Trump, photo via YouTube.

“We are members of these unions, and they don’t take into consideration our feelings about Donald J. Trump, then they don’t care about us and … they don’t care about our dues,” Rochelle Bilal, the recent past president of the Guardian Civic League of Philadelphia, told the Associated Press. 

Bilal, who was also Philadelphia’s first black female sheriff, called FOP’s endorsement of Trump is an “outrage.” 

Rob Pride, a Black Police officer and the FOP’s chair of trustees, said he also disagrees with the Fraternity’s endorsement, telling the Associated Press that the political climate following the George Floyd incident “is tearing America apart.”

Other Officers, like Chief Michael Davis of Hazel Crest, a Chicago suburb, said he’s had to navigate “tricky internal politics” as a Black man, and an officer.

NPR news explains how Davis has had to “explain to Black people why police like him revere the thin blue line emblem as a memorial for cops killed on duty.” But, internally, he’s had to explain to his fellow officers why many people, particularly in the Black community, take offense to the phrase “Blue Lives Matter.”  

Despite the fact that Davis says not everyone agrees with him, he says “communication is crucial” especially during this highly political time. 

Davis concludes with NPR by saying that the key to countering political bias on behalf of police officers is to “show that they’re part of the local community first and foremost.” 

Additional Reading:

Biden has Defended Police, Yet Union Groups Oppose Him

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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