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

Police and protesters at Cleveland Public Square on the final day of the Republican National Convention in July in Cleveland.
Dominick Reuter
AFP/Getty Images
Police and protesters at Cleveland Public Square on the final day of the Republican National Convention in July in Cleveland.

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.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.