The Issues: How Clinton And Trump Come Down On Law And Order

Sep 22, 2016
Originally published on September 22, 2016 2:37 pm

Law and order has been a major theme this year on the campaign trail. But that means very different things to the two major party presidential candidates.

With just under two months to go before the November election, we're taking a closer look at where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand on issues of crime and policing.

Crime and Violence

Trump has made what he calls a return to law and order a centerpiece of his campaign. Trump devoted a lot of time to the issue in his address to the Republican National Convention, where he vowed: "The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, come to an end. Beginning on January 20th of 2017, safety will be restored."

Trump recently told the International Association of Chiefs of Police in a written questionnaire that he would reduce crime by enforcing federal statutes that cover illegal immigration, drug trafficking and human trafficking.

While murder and violent crime are on the rise in several big cities, criminologists and justice analysts say the problem is a localized one. Historically, they say, the nation remains far from the kind of trouble that plagued major cities from the 1970s to the early 1990s — a change that Clinton has credited to years of hard work by police and community leaders.

Clinton told the police chiefs group that she would focus in part on deterring repeat offenders and promoting strategies to reduce violence that bring clergy, friends and relatives of gang members together to de-escalate situations before crimes happen.

She added that any plan to cut down on violence needs to consider the ready availability of illegal guns. Clinton said she wants to see a crackdown on dealers that "flood" cities with such weapons and she wants Congress to pass comprehensive background check legislation, an issue the public has supported in opinion polls but that lawmakers have failed to achieve.

The Role of Police

While Trump has expressed some worry about times when police killed unarmed people, he often focuses on how law enforcement feels, especially after deadly assaults on police in Baton Rouge and Dallas this year.

In campaign appearances, Trump has stressed the role of police under siege.

Last week, the Fraternal Order of Police, a large police union, endorsed Trump for the presidency, citing his commitment to promoting law enforcement officers and public safety. Officials at the FOP said Clinton had not requested their endorsement.

Clinton talks about the issues more broadly. She says killing a law enforcement officer is a "terrible crime" but says national leaders can't ignore incidents where black men are disproportionately killed by police.

"We've got urgent work to do to rebuild trust between police and communities and get back to the fundamental principle: everyone should have respect for the law and be respected by the law," Clinton told an audience last summer about clashes between law enforcement and black people.

Clinton said she views building trust between police and people of color to be a major priority for the next president. In speeches and responses to the police chiefs questionnaire, Clinton said she supports federal funding for training police on crisis intervention and de-escalation. She said she wants the federal government to pay to make sure every police department in the nation is equipped with body-worn cameras. Clinton also supports legislation that would ban racial profiling by law enforcement, and she has called on the federal government to partner with state and local authorities to develop national guidelines for when police should use force against people on the streets.

Policing Law Enforcement

During President Obama's tenure, the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department has launched dozens of investigations into racial bias and unconstitutional practices in local police agencies from Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore, Md.

Trump said he would end that practice. "The federal government should provide assistance to state and local law enforcement, but should not dictate ... or interfere unless invited in by appropriate authorities or when verifiable improper behavior is clearly demonstrated," he told the IACP.

Trump added that the federal government should not demand information about incidents where local police shoot people, leaving the management to state and local authorities.

Clinton would adopt a far more activist approach. Clinton promised to devote $1 billion in her first federal budget as president to funding training programs to reduce implicit bias within law enforcement and research to achieve that goal.

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We are seeing some new unrest and protests this week after shootings by police in Charlotte, N.C., and Tulsa, Okla. Last night, North Carolina's governor declared a state of emergency after a second night of violent protests.


GREENE: It's another flashpoint in the national conversation about law enforcement and its role in minority communities. And it is also an issue that's been part of the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton talked about this on "The Steve Harvey Show" this week.


HILLARY CLINTON: An unarmed man...


CLINTON: ...With his hands in the air - I mean, this is just unbearable.


CLINTON: And it needs to be intolerable. And so, you know, maybe I can, by speaking directly to white people, say, look - this is not who we are. We've got to do everything possible to improve policing, to go right at implicit bias. There are good, honorable, cool-headed police officers. We've seen them in action in New York over the last, you know, 48 hours because of the terrorist attack. We can do better.

GREENE: OK. And yesterday, Donald Trump addressed the Tulsa shooting at a black church.


DONALD TRUMP: Well, as you know, I am a tremendous believer in the police and law enforcement because we need that for ourselves. We do.


TRUMP: And I've really gotten the endorsement from so many different groups, and they're great people. They're great people. Now, great people - you always have problems. You have somebody in there that either makes a mistake that's bad or that chokes. I must tell you, I watched the shooting in particular in Tulsa, and that man was - hands up. That man went to the car - hands up - put his hand on the car. I mean, it - to me, it looked like he did everything you're supposed to do.

GREENE: All right. There are two months to go before the November election. Let's dig a little deeper here at this issue and the candidates' stands on policing and crime. What's The Issue - that's what we're calling our election project where we highlight specific issues. And we're joined by NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So Hillary Clinton there saying we can do better, improve policing, go right at implicit bias. What exactly does she mean when she talks about this in relationship between the police and minority communities?

JOHNSON: Hillary Clinton's been talking about this a lot, David. In fact, one of her very first campaign stops was devoted to justice overhaul issues. She says she wants to build trust - that should be a priority for the next president. She wants to end racial profiling and wants a federal law that would do that. And she wants to bring together federal and local authorities to develop some national standards on when police should actually use force.

GREENE: OK. And Donald Trump?

JOHNSON: Trump's expressed some worry about what happened in Tulsa and a few other tragedies. But he usually focuses on how law enforcement feels, especially, David, after deadly attacks on police in Baton Rouge and Dallas this year. He told a big police chiefs group that he'll make sure immigration laws and drug laws are enforced by the federal government. But he also said law enforcement is mostly an issue to be left to state and local authorities. And the feds should really not be butting in in his view.

GREENE: Well, let me pause on that idea for a moment, Carrie Johnson, because, you know, the Justice Department under President Obama has been known as being really active in coming in and investigating things like racial bias in police departments - Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Md. I mean, it sounds like Donald Trump is thinking about using the DOJ in a very different way.

JOHNSON: This would be a huge shift. We've chronicled dozens of investigations by the Barack Obama Justice Department in this area. But Donald Trump says there should be a partnership. The feds can help, but they shouldn't dictate how police do their jobs unless they're invited in. Ultimately, Donald Trump says local issues should remain local.

GREENE: You know, when voters think about this issue, I guess, you know, a lot of questions come up, like how safe they feel - how safe they are. And you've been looking at new crime data suggesting that violent crime and homicides might be rising slightly. How does that reality play in the campaign?

JOHNSON: Well, a lot of scholars say it's too early to say there's some kind of dark, "Mad Max"-type scenario in the streets. Murders and violent crimes are up in many big cities. But scholars say we shouldn't be drawing sweeping conclusions here, in part because of high poverty. And decades of segregation can leave some cities prone to short-term increases in violence.

That said, Donald Trump's been out there promoting, for example, the idea of police doing more stops-and-frisks of suspicious people. David, that's a practice that people have called ineffective and even unconstitutional in a civil rights...

GREENE: Yeah. He said it's worked in New York City. But a lot of people disagree with that.

JOHNSON: Yeah, there are some studies that suggest it hasn't worked so well. It hasn't resulted in a lot of arrests, and it certainly had a disproportionate effect on blacks and Latinos in New York City.

GREENE: And when Hillary Clinton talks about addressing violent crime, what does she say?

JOHNSON: She says any plan to limit violence needs to address gun violence, which she calls the leading cause of death for young black men. And she wants to see some new gun laws, new laws on background checks and the like.

GREENE: Well - and Republicans often say that she wants to take Second Amendment rights away, which is something Hillary Clinton has never said. But Donald Trump speaks about gun rights and protecting them.

JOHNSON: He says everyone should have the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. People who use guns to commit crimes, in his view, should be punished. Hillary Clinton says she doesn't want people who shouldn't have guns to be out in the streets hurting innocent kids.

GREENE: OK - talking about the issue of policing and crime as it relates to the presidential campaign with NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

Carrie, thanks a lot.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.