NOEL KING, HOST:
Some police officials are condemning statements made by President Trump on Friday to an audience of law enforcement officers in New York.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Please don't be too nice. Like, when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over - like, don't hit their head and they've just killed somebody, don't hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?
KING: In tweets and statements, police chiefs across the country are saying essentially that is not OK. Chuck Wexler is executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. That's a group that educates law enforcement agencies across the country. Wexler says he is unhappy with the president's remarks, so we called him to ask why.
CHUCK WEXLER: Well, I think it was important to speak out. Look. The policing has been challenged the last few years. God knows a series of incidents have put the police on the front page of many papers. And there's been a lot of introspection about what we have to do to change in terms of training policy. So when the president of the United States for whatever reasons makes the statements he did about basically roughing up suspects, many of us had a visceral reaction, especially - unfortunately, when some of the police in the background applauded. And so I thought - talking to my colleagues, we all said, you know, this is not who we are. This is not what we stand for. And we have to speak up. And I think that's what you're seeing across the country.
KING: I think that applause actually gave a lot of people pause. And I wonder when you have an incident like this, does it do damage to the reputation of departments, right? Because some of the departments that have come out and said, you know, what the president said is not appropriate, it's not our policy, they have had problems in the past, you know, high-profile problems in the past. Does this give people who are critical of the police more ammunition?
WEXLER: Well, you know, it may, but I think the fact that you're seeing so many of us speaking out. You know, you see the New York police commissioner - even in Suffolk County, where he spoke, the department within two hours denounced what he said. You look at Suffolk County, I mean, they've had issues with immigration and federal oversight. They had - one of their chiefs was arrested. So look. Police are very respectful, especially of the president of the United States. So this is not easy, speaking out against your president. But this kind of statement was for many of us viewed as a green light to use unnecessary force, and we just don't need that now. We are making progress. We are moving forward. And it was important to speak out.
KING: On the other hand, this is a very pro-law enforcement precedent. Donald Trump says - has often said he supports the law enforcement community. What kind of position does that put you in? I would imagine in some sense there is respect for some of the statements he's made in the past about supporting officers.
WEXLER: Supporting the police doesn't mean giving the police a green light to rough up suspects. And that's where you have to draw the line. We live in a country where the rule of law is very important. Even suspects need to be treated fairly and impartially. That's what makes America so unique and different from a banana republic. We respect the rights of everyone, but for the president of the United States to give a green light that you can rough them up because they've done something bad, that's not what America is all about. That's not what American police are all about. And that's why we feel so strongly and to step up, even with the president that's supportive of the police and say, listen, you've gone too far here.
KING: That was Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. We did reach out to the White House for a comment or clarification on the president's remarks, but we haven't gotten a response back as of yet.
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