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Trump police edicts draw mixed reviews in Detroit

George Hunter
The Detroit News

President Donald Trump’s executive order mandating federal penalties for crimes against police officers is being praised by Detroit’s top cop, who believes the edict will help lower crime and improve police morale.

But some have been critical of the order, saying it creates new penalties that could lead to over-charging suspects. One local organization Monday lambasted Trump’s order, along with Detroit Police Chief James Craig’s support, saying it doesn’t reflect Detroiters’ attitudes.

The executive order, “Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal and Local Law Enforcement Officers,” which Trump signed Thursday, directs the Department of Justice to “pursue appropriate legislation ... that will define new Federal crimes, and increase penalties for existing Federal crimes, in order to prevent violence against ... law enforcement officers.”

Craig said the order, and two other law-enforcement-related executive orders Trump signed last week, signify that the president supports cops.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Craig, who on Wednesday attended a meeting of the Major Chiefs Association, in which Trump expressed support for police officers.

“I think this will improve morale among police officers, which will help drive down crime,” Craig said. “In a lot of cities, the police have not felt supported, and I think many chiefs and sheriffs came away from the meeting feeling like this president supported them. I’m sure not all of them feel that way, but I can tell you many do.”

Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality President Kenneth Reed said he was disappointed to hear Craig praise Trump’s policies during a national television broadcast Thursday on Fox News Channel.

During the interview on Neil Cavuto’s “Your World,” Craig said: “I had a chance to listen to President Trump at (the) Major City Chiefs (meeting.) He visited with us, gave support of law enforcement, and that the madness will stop. This is about creating safe cities, safe communities and neighborhoods.”

Reed said in a press release Monday it was inappropriate for Craig to publicly support Trump’s policies.

“In the dual role of Police Chief and Deputy Mayor, Craig carries Mayor (Mike) Duggan’s views and directives,” Reed wrote. “Full support of Trump’s and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Law Enforcement agenda doesn’t align with the thoughts of Detroiters.”

Duggan’s chief of staff Alexis Wiley said Monday in an email: “Chief Craig is entitled to express his own opinion.”

Craig insisted he hasn’t changed his stance since Trump was elected, and called Reed’s statement “a personal attack.”

“I’m the police chief. That’s the bottom line. I report to the mayor, with oversight provided by the (civilian Board of Police Commissioners), but this has nothing to do with the mayor or me being deputy mayor,” Craig said. “I have not said anything different; my support of police officers, and denouncing violence against them, has been consistent since before Trump even became a candidate (for president).”

Regarding Trump’s executive order, Reed said it was “meaningless window dressing designed as a backlash against a long-standing movement against the many and varied ways that law enforcement oppresses people of color.”

Amnesty International USA also was critical of the order, saying in a statement: “This order will not protect anyone, and instead it creates additional penalties that could cause people to be significantly over-prosecuted for offenses including resisting arrest.

“Police already have laws protecting them, but there is no federal standard for the prosecution of officers who unlawfully kill civilians,” Amnesty International’s Noor Mir wrote.

Craig said it’s too early to tell what penalties would be implemented because of the order. “I’m sure they’re not going to charge people federally for simple resisting arrest cases, but when someone ambushes the police and guns them down in cold blood, like we’ve seen several times, the federal government should get involved.”

Detroit Police Officers Association President Mark Diaz said he thinks most of the criticism is aimed at Trump, not the executive order.

“For people to speak against an order that empowers and protects law enforcement, it seems to me they have more of a problem with the person more than the order itself,” Diaz said. “Whether you voted for Trump or not, if he’s supporting public safety, I think we need to get behind that.”

One of Trump’s orders directs Sessions to establish a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which Trump said will develop “strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime.”

A third order signed by Trump Thursday focuses on transnational drug cartels. It calls for federal agencies to better share intelligence with state and local police departments, and orders an inter-agency task force to submit a report to the president within a year detailing progress made in fighting drug organizations.

Reed said he’s uncomfortable with the future of policing under Trump. “I’m afraid we’ll look up and start seeing military-style vehicles rolling through Detroit,” he said. “We don’t want the attitude of the Detroit Police Department to be command and control; it’s supposed to be protect and serve.”

In his release, Reed wrote Craig was “grandstanding and endorsing President-signed Executive orders that gloss over the very real problems with police misconduct and corruption.”

Craig replied he has disciplined officers who break the law, and said anyone claiming he turns a blind eye to police misconduct is “sorely mistaken.”