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Trump’s Law and Order Distortions

President Donald Trump made false and misleading statements in an attempt to contrast his stance on law enforcement with that of Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent in the presidential race:

  • The president claimed in an Oct. 10 campaign rally at the White House — his first campaign event since he contracted COVID-19 — that in the presidential debate, Biden “couldn’t even use the words law enforcement.” He did.
  • Trump also claimed that Biden said, “When you call 911, a therapist should answer the call.” He didn’t. Biden said mental health experts should accompany police on some calls, a policy Trump also supported in a June executive order.

Trump made his claims from a White House balcony, addressing a crowd of supporters on the South Lawn, in the event organized by the conservative group Blexit, which calls for Black Americans to exit the Democratic Party. And he repeated some of the claims in an Oct. 12 campaign rally in Florida.

The president’s reelection campaign has cultivated a “law and order” theme, falsely portraying Biden as a supporter of defunding the police. Biden has said repeatedly that he does not support defunding the police, as he wrote in an op-ed published in USA Today on June 10. While he has said he would support shifting some funding from law enforcement to social service agencies, Biden also has talked about increasing funding for departments that agree to “implement meaningful reforms.” 

The Biden campaign also told us in a statement in June that Biden supports more money for initiatives that would strengthen the relationship between the police and the community and for body-worn cameras.

Biden’s Debate Comments

Trump referred to what Biden said, or didn’t say, at the Sept. 29 presidential debate.

Trump, Oct. 10: The other day in the debate Biden couldn’t even use the words law enforcement. I said, “Say law enforcement. Say law enforcement,” and he was bailed out by the anchor. Then I said, very simply I said, “Name one law enforcement group that’s supporting you,” he couldn’t do it, but he was bailed out by the anchor. Second time bailed. He got bailed out by that anchor a lot. Taking their funds away, their firearms, their fundamental authorities, taking everything away, including your freedom. Joe Biden even said, “When you call 911, a therapist should answer the call.” That doesn’t work. That doesn’t work.

In an Oct. 12 rally in Florida, Trump repeated a few of those claims, saying: “At our debate, Biden could not name a single law enforcement organization that supports him, not one.” And: “Then I said, say the words ‘law enforcement,’ just say it. Couldn’t do it, he couldn’t say it.”

At one point in the debate, Trump said to Biden: “You can’t even say the word ‘law enforcement’ because if you say those words, you’re going to lose all of your radical left supporters. And why aren’t you saying those words, Joe? Why don’t you say the words ‘law enforcement’?”

After Trump finished his comments, moderator Chris Wallace turned to his next question, saying, “All right. I want to return to the question of race.” So Biden didn’t respond to Trump’s comments then, but Biden said “law enforcement” in his answer to Wallace’s question about race, going on to say “the vast majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable men and women.”

Here’s what was said immediately after Trump finished asking Biden to “say the words law enforcement”:

Wallace, Sept. 29 debate: All right. I want to return to the question of race. Vice President Biden, after the grand jury in the Breonna Taylor case decided not to charge any of the police with homicide, you said it raises the question, quote “whether justice could be equally applied in America.” Do you believe that there is a separate but unequal system of justice for Blacks in this country?

Biden: Yes, there is. There’s systemic injustice in this country. In education, in work and in law enforcement and the way in which it’s enforced. But look, the vast majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable men and women. They risk their lives every day to take care of us. But there are some bad apples. And when they occur, when they find them, they have to be sorted out. They have to be held accountable. They have to be held accountable.

And what I’m going to do as president of the United States is call together an entire group of people at the White House, everything from the civil rights groups to the police officers, the police chiefs, and we’re going to work this out.

We’re going to work this out so we change the way in which we have more transparency in when these things happen. These cops aren’t happy to see what happened to George Floyd. These cops aren’t happy to see what happened to Breonna Taylor. Most don’t like it. But we have to have a system where people are held accountable.

And, by the way, violence in response is never appropriate. Never appropriate. Peaceful protest is, violence is never appropriate.

Later in the debate, Biden again used the words “law enforcement” when Wallace asked him about language in the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations, a document containing policy recommendations from Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, released in early July. 

Wallace: I do want to talk about this issue of law and order though, and in the joint recommendation that came from the Biden-Bernie Sanders task force, you talked about quote, “reimagining policing.” First of all, what does reimagining policing mean and do you support … If I might finish the question. What does reimagining policing mean and do you support the Black Lives Matter call for community control of policing?

Biden: Look, what I support is the police having the opportunity to deal with the problems they face. I’m totally opposed to defunding the police offices. As a matter of fact, local police. The only one defunding, and his budget calls for a $400 million cut in local law enforcement assistance. They need more assistance.

They need, when they show up for a 911 call, to have someone with them as a psychologist or psychiatrist to keep them from having to use force and be able to talk people down. We have to have community policing like we had before, where the officers get to know the people in the communities.

Trump claimed in his Oct. 10 event that “Biden even said, ‘When you call 911, a therapist should answer the call.'” That appears to be a reference to Biden’s remark that the police should “have someone with them as a psychologist or psychiatrist to keep them from having to use force and be able to talk people down.” While Trump added, “That doesn’t work,” the president, in fact, has proposed a similar policy.

On June 16, Trump signed an executive order on policing that called for “co-responder programs, which involve social workers or other mental health professionals working alongside law enforcement officers so that they arrive and address situations together.”

Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities, June 16: The Attorney General shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services as appropriate, identify and develop opportunities to train law enforcement officers with respect to encounters with individuals suffering from impaired mental health, homelessness, and addiction; to increase the capacity of social workers working directly with law enforcement agencies; and to provide guidance regarding the development and implementation of co-responder programs, which involve social workers or other mental health professionals working alongside law enforcement officers so that they arrive and address situations together.

The Biden-Sanders policy document contains similar language, calling for: “Federal funding to create a civilian corps of unarmed first responders such as social workers, EMTs, and trained mental health professionals, who can handle nonviolent emergencies including order maintenance violations, mental health emergencies, and low-level conflicts outside the criminal justice system, freeing police officers to concentrate on the most serious crimes. Fund initiatives to partner mental health professionals, substance use disorder experts, social workers, and disability advocates with police departments to respond to calls with police officers to better de-escalate interactions with citizens and when appropriate, to divert individuals to the social services they need.”

We asked the Trump campaign what the difference was between Biden’s call for mental health professionals to respond with police to calls and Trump’s executive order supporting “co-responder programs” with “social workers or other mental health professionals.” We haven’t received a response.

As for Biden’s claim in the debate that Trump’s budget “calls for a $400 million cut in local law enforcement assistance,” Trump’s 2021 budget did call for a reduction in funding, compared with what Congress enacted in 2020, for a host of federal Justice Department programs that pertain to state and local law enforcement. Our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact found the net reduction was $515 million, though $100 million of that concerns security at the national party conventions (which wouldn’t be needed in a 2021 budget).

The largest proposed reductions were to the Community Oriented Policing Services program (which the Trump budget proposed reorganizing), the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (which provides criminal justice grants to state and local governments) and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (which pays state and local entities for salary costs associated with incarcerating immigrants who are in the country illegally and committed certain crimes).

But one expert told PolitiFact that some of the programs fund what’s better described as public safety goals rather than direct assistance to law enforcement.

Law Enforcement Endorsements

Trump also claimed that at the debate, he asked Biden to “name one law enforcement group that’s supporting you” and Biden “couldn’t do it.”

It’s true that Biden didn’t name anyone at the debate when Trump asked him to do so. But, as we wrote in our story on the debate, Biden is backed by some current and former law enforcement officials. The campaign released a list of more than 190 officials who say they support Biden, including current and former police officers, sheriffs, attorneys general and district attorneys. 

Trump has been endorsed by the National Association of Police Organizations and the Fraternal Order of Police, as well as state and local police organizations, such as the union for New York City officers.

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