While President Donald Trump was in the middle of his remarks bashing Chicago and its police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis turned to the police official standing next to him and said just one word: “Wow.”
Davis, who is second vice president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the national recording secretary for the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, was one of about 50 people who huddled around a T.V. on the exposition floor at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference to watch the president’s speech.
Trump was speaking just across the hall in a McCormick Place ballroom, where his paeans to the heroism and bravery of police officers drew enthusiastic cheers.
Illinois police officials had a mixed reaction to the president’s speech, with some welcoming the president’s support for law enforcement and others taking issue with the president’s harsh criticism of Chicago and its police superintendent.
But Davis was not impressed.
“A lot of people keep talking about the president being the greatest advocate for law enforcement,” Davis said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had a president, Democrat, Republican or otherwise, I don’t know that I can think of anybody who’s ever been against the police.”
The difference with Trump, Davis said, is that the president does not ever question law enforcement or call on police to improve.
“When somebody agrees with everything that you do, and doesn’t oppose anything that you do, it’s easy for you to say that they’re a staunch advocate,” Davis said. “Your friends that see you doing bad things, and just let you keep doing them … They’re really not your friends. Your friends are the people that you have relationship enough with that they will call you on things.”
“Police feel under siege”
Davis compared Trump’s unquestioning support with former President Barack Obama’s “Task Force on 21st Century Policing,” which Davis said helped many police departments become “more equitable” by taking a more critical look at policing in America.
But Westchester Police Chief Steven Stelter, who is president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said it was “refreshing” to hear praise and support from Trump.
Stelter was in the ballroom for the president’s speech.
“It’s always a pleasure to see someone, especially someone with the title of president of the United States, address us and to really go out there and be a cheerleader and show his support because we have not had that in quite a long time,” Stelter said. “When you get a president of the United States that’s willing to do that. You know, it’s beautiful. We love it.”
Stelter said police did not enjoy the same support from “past presidents.”
Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said Trump’s pro-police rhetoric is different from his predecessor, Barack Obama, but declined to elaborate.
“Police feel under siege,” Wojcicki said. “They feel beat up, and they don’t feel supported, but they felt [supported] today and it was good to be in the room with that.”
Villa Park Deputy Chief William Lyons said he appreciates the fact that Trump has police officers’ backs. But he said it was important for police to be “neutral” and not weigh into partisan politics.
“I stay out of that, you know, and everybody has their beliefs and I don’t want to offend anybody,” Lyons said. “We have people in the department that are pro Trump and we have people that are not … and we’re here to do a job and, regardless of who you support, we need to get the job done. And we’re here, number one, to serve the people.”
“Give us some substance”
At the end of his remarks Monday, Trump signed an executive order creating the “Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice.”
Trump said the commission would study the root causes of crime and look at ways to recruit and retain police officers.
Stelter said he didn’t know much about what was in the executive order but said he appreciated that Trump chose the police chiefs conference in Chicago to sign the order.
Davis said he didn’t know what to make of the executive order or the commission it created because Trump offered such scant details during the speech.
“I guess if I had my druthers, I would rather you not beat up Cook County for a half hour and give more detail on this [executive order] you’re signing. I mean, that’s the stuff I was looking for,” Davis said. “The fact that he’s behind law enforcement, I appreciate that. But give us some substance as to what’s going on and what are the things that you’re going to be doing to help.”
Trump spent a good portion of his hour-and-20-minute speech blasting Chicago’s top cop for refusing to stand with him.
Last week, Johnson announced he would not attend the speech saying in a written statement, “I can’t in good conscience stand by while racial insults and hatred are cast from the oval office.”
Johnson also said he would not attend the president’s speech “because the values of the people of Chicago are more important than anything he would have to say.”
In the speech, Trump threw those words back at Johnson.
“I want Eddie Johnson to change his values and change them fast,” Trump said. “It’s embarrassing to us as a nation. All over the world they’re talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place, by comparison. It’s true.”
Davis said he considers Johnson “a personal friend,” and believes Trump’s criticism was unfair.
“This is not the first time he’s bashed Chicago and Superintendent Johnson, so it’s no surprise that [Johnson] would not want to be in attendance,” Davis said. “So I don’t know what he was expecting from the superintendent. But the stuff that’s been going on in Chicago has been going on a long time. Eddie Johnson didn’t create it.”
Stelter did not want to weigh in on the feud between Trump and Johnson, except to acknowledge Johnson has a very tough job running the Chicago Police Department.
“You couldn’t pay me enough money in the world to have his job,” Stelter said. “Superintendent Johnson made a decision that was best for him, and, you know, we have to respect the fact that that was his decision, and whatever the president has an issue with that, that’s the president’s deal.”
Chip Mitchell contributed reporting for this story.