Lawmen: Trump wrong on 'don't be too nice'

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Camden County Sheriff Tony Perry

John Manley.jpg
Eddie Buffaloe.jpg

By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Two area law enforcement officials say they strongly disagree with President Donald Trump’s recent remarks suggesting police officials should be rougher on crime suspects they have in custody.

Camden Sheriff Tony Perry and Elizabeth City State University Campus Police Chief John Manley both say the president’s comments were wrong and do little to help police officers in an environment that’s growing increasingly suspicious of police motives and actions. 

"That just puts more fuel on the fire. He didn't help us any, I can tell you that," Perry said, referring to Trump’s remarks during a July 28 speech to law enforcement officials on Long Island in New York.

In the speech, Trump urged law enforcement officials to take a firm line against criminal illegal aliens and street gangs. He then appeared dismissive of the standard law enforcement practice of shielding the heads of handcuffed suspects being placed into police vehicles so that they aren’t injured.

Trump advised police officials in the audience that when they see "these thugs" being put into a police vehicle, "please don’t be too nice." Then holding his right hand over his head, the president advised police officials who try to protect a suspect’s head that, "you can take the hand away, OK?"

Some of the police officers standing behind Trump could be seen smiling or applauding after the remarks. Some cheered.

However, Trump's remarks quickly prompted criticism from law enforcement officials and organizations nationwide. Asked about the uproar afterward, Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained the president was joking when he made the remarks.

But both Perry and Manley said how police deal with crime suspects isn’t a joking matter.

Perry, who initially didn’t see video of Trump’s remarks, said after watching it that the remarks made him cringe. He noted law enforcement already has a problem with allegations of officer brutality, allegations that have sparked violent protests across the country. The last thing police and sheriff’s departments need, he said, is someone in authority like the president making light of how police handle crime suspects.

"He needs to be more professional and tip-toe lightly on that stuff," Perry said.

Manley said Trump "absolutely" should not have made the remarks and called them inappropriate. He said the remarks are even more troubling because they came from someone in such a high position of authority.

"Words do hurt," Manley said. "You've got to treat people with care — and you've got to handle people reasonably. You've got to treat them with dignity and respect, irregardless of what the person may have done."

Perry attributed part of the problem to Trump’s non-politician’s style of kidding around at the podium.

"He's just a businessman," Perry said. "And he thinks that he can make these jokes and get away it. I mean, it seems like he keeps digging himself a hole by some of his actions that he's doing as president.

"I've been a politician for 17 years," Perry continued. "There's certain things you just don't say. You might think it, but you don't say it in public because people will certainly take you wrong."

Asked about his own department's methods of handling crime suspects, Perry said, "We don't treat people that way."

"You just don't do that," he added.

Elizabeth City police Chief Eddie Buffaloe also suggested his department isn’t taking any advice from the president when it comes to handling crime suspects.

"He has his opinion about things, but we're going to uphold of the laws of this land and our state," Buffaloe said. "We're going to treat everybody with fairness, integrity and professionalism – anybody that we come in contact with."

Perry said he doesn’t doubt Trump supports law enforcement. However, he believes the president should apologize for his remarks about how police should handle crime suspects.