President Donald Trump continued to spotlight violence in Chicago during a meeting Tuesday with police union officials including Dean Angelo Sr., the president of the union for Chicago’s rank-and-file officers.
“I ask, ‘What’s going on in Chicago, right? What is going on?’ ” Trump asked early in the meeting. “There’s no excuse for it. There’s no excuse for it. I’m sure you’re asking the same question, ‘What’s going on in Chicago?’ “
Angelo and the eight other participants from the Fraternal Order of Police met with media outside the White House after the session. They said issues covered with the president included gun violence, the opioid crisis, sanctuary cities and the uptick in “ambush-style” attacks on law enforcement officers in the last two or three years.
Angelo said he welcomed the opportunity to speak about Chicago. “I just mentioned that the police officers want to work, and that we they need people to support police officers to go back to work so they can work toward stemming the violence in our city,” Angelo said.
Trump styles himself as a law-and-order president, and at his swearing-in he pledged to “make America safe again.” During Tuesday’s meeting he continued with that theme, telling Angelo and others: “I made a crucial pledge: We will always support the incredible men and women of law enforcement. I will always have your back 100 percent.
“Sadly, our police are often prevented from doing their jobs. In too many of our communities, violent crime is on the rise. These are painful realities that many in Washington don’t want to talk about. We have seen it all over.”
He also noted the “violence in Chicago.”
There were more than 760 homicides in Chicago last year, the most in 20 years. Homicides have jumped dramatically in the country’s third-largest city and in some other cities over the last two years, breaking from America’s decadeslong decline in violent crime.
Trump told the union officials that he had created an interagency task force to reduce violent crime and said the administration was at work to dismantle cartels, secure the country’s borders and remove criminals.
“We will work every day to remove the gang members, drug dealers and violent criminals from your communities, and we already are,” Trump said.
He said his highest duty as president is “the security of our people, the security of our nation.”
Chuck Canterbury, the FOP’s national president, told reporters after the meeting that the union agrees with Trump in opposing sanctuary cities — which include Chicago and Los Angeles — that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials.
“We believe in enforcing the laws of the country of the United States,” Canterbury said. “We believe that sanctuary city status is not a good thing for America. We support the president on his sanctuary city initiative.”
The FOP especially wants to make sure that local law enforcement officers are not afraid to do their jobs and report people with criminal warrants or detainers to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, he said.
Canterbury also said the FOP was “very concerned” about the prospect of federal law enforcement funding to sanctuary cities being cut off, “but we’ll be talking to the administration.”
He added: “Those programs that are necessary to help reduce crime in Chicago, we feel certain the administration is going to work with us to help reduce, especially gun violence, in the city of Chicago.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of the participants in the meeting, said Monday that the Justice Department planned to award $4.1 billion in grants this year through the Office of Justice Programs and the Community Oriented Policing Services program, but sanctuary cities risked having the funds taken away or denied.
Canterbury said rank-and-file officers want to have input on federal programs, especially in the area of gun violence.
He said officer recruitment and retention also came up. “We’re in a crisis in this country with being able to find qualified police applicants without reducing standards,” he said, adding that the FOP did not want to lower standards and that recruits should have no criminal record and the mental fortitude for the job.
Canterbury said Trump wants to know what the issues confronting law enforcement are and about violent crime in major cities. “It’s just a real pleasure to have a president in the White House that cares about law enforcement’s major concerns,” he said.
Last month, Trump held a White House listening session with county sheriffs and gave a speech in Washington to big-city police chiefs.
The FOP calls itself the world’s largest organization for sworn law enforcement officers, with more than 330,000 members. The national group endorsed Trump’s White House run.
Its Chicago affiliate says it has 8,202 members. Angelo, in a news release last week, said national officials of the Fraternal Order of Police had invited him to meet with “key members” of the Trump administration.
A lingering issue is the Justice Department’s scathing report in January, in the waning days of President Barack Obama’s term, that found Chicago police were poorly trained and quick to use excessive force, including deadly force.
Sessions has publicly vowed to “pull back” on such federal civil rights probes of local police agencies.
But when Sessions met March 16 at the Justice Department with several police chiefs, including Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, one participant said the attorney general seemed supportive of his civil rights division’s work.
On Tuesday, Sessions and Angelo spoke before Trump came into the room, and the exchange was captured by reporters and photographers. Sessions asked Angelo, “How’s the Chicago world?”
“Oh, a little crazy, a little upside-down right now,” Angelo replied.
Sessions then told Angelo that “we’re gonna get back to the tried and true, proven principles. Sometimes I think we made it harder to do that.”
Angelo agreed and told Sessions that “we have people that are afraid they’re going to lose their job for doing their job.”