How Donald Trump Could Undermine Police Reform

November 13th 2016

Adeshina Emmanuel

Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election could signal a drastic shift in priorities at the federal Department of Justice when it comes to tackling civil rights violations at local police departments.

"Law enforcement is a state and local issue for the most part and should be dealt with at the appropriate level," Trump said during the campaign, in answer to a questionnaire from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Trump added that the feds shouldn't have a role in "demanding data from state law enforcement organizations," despite a lack of data collected about officer-involved shootings, The Washington Post reported.

Perhaps most troubling is how Trump has advocated for an expansion of stop-and-frisk policing, a strategy that was ruled unconstitutional in New York City because Black and Latino people were disproportionately targeted for street stops.

Trump defended his assertion in a September interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity:

"I think Chicago needs stop and frisk. ... Now, people can criticize me for that or people can say whatever they want. But they asked me about Chicago, and I think stop and frisk with good strong, you know, good strong law and order. But you have to do something. It can't continue the way it's going."

"Undermined and reversed."

"Given what Donald has said about what's going on with police in this country during the campaign, given his appeal to people who hold racist views, given his own history of being engaged in discriminatory conduct, I am terribly worried that the important work done by the Civil Rights Division is going to be undermined and reversed," said Jonathan Smith, former head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.

Police should be better respected, as Trump has stressed, said Sean Smoot, director and chief legal counsel for the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois, a union that represents police supervisors. But he disagreed with expanding stop and frisk.

"In New York, where they have really tapered stop and frisk, their crime rate has continued to go down," Smoot said. "So by increasing something that is questionable constitutionally and, based on New York's experience, that isn't going to necessarily make for a good policy. But, then again, I don't [know] that's what his policy will be."

Trump "will definitely undermine the movement" against alleged police brutality.

That's the feeling of Jedidiah Brown, an activist and pastor in Chicago who stormed the stage at a Trump rally in Chicago in March.

"His way is stop and frisk," Brown said in a phone interview from Chicago Friday, where protests against Trump have taken place since his victory earlier in the week. "And he's very ignorant to to the lives of people in these Black and brown neighborhoods."

President Barack Obama has been more aggressive scrutinizing abuses at police departments than both presidents before him.

Obama's administration leaned heavily on a 1994 civil rights law that helped the DOJ compel change at troubled police departments in cities such as Seattle, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Missouri. Courts ordered departments to revise policies governing use of force, officer training, systems of accountability, data reporting, and more. Chicago and Baltimore have open DOJ probes.

President George W. Bush's DOJ Civil Rights Division was more hands off when it came to police departments, compared to President Bill Clinton.