TAVARES, Fla. – Local officials have stopped short of criticizing President Donald Trump’s recent speech where he encouraged law enforcement officers not to be “too nice” with suspects during their arrest.
But they were quick to point out they do not intentionally try to injure suspects during their arrests.
“Leesburg officers are trained to treat all individuals, including arrestees, with respect and dignity,” said Lt. Joe Iozzi, Leesburg police spokesman. “That principle is mandated and supported by department policy and state law alike.”
Trump’s spoke at a Brentwood, N.Y. event on Friday in support of police in their fight against La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, a gang that has been accused of several murders.
After citing the need for immigration officers to step up their effort in arresting more of the gang members, Trump told officers, “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 your hand over” their head, he said. “I said, ‘You can take the hand away, O.K.?’”
Fruitland Park Police Chief Michael A. Fewless said once his agency restrains a suspect in its custody, they are treated with care.
“We will not intentionally subject any individual to undue pain or injury,” Fewless said.
However, Fewless added he didn’t believe Trump was encouraging police brutality.
“I took it as an off the cuff statement from somebody that is not politically savvy,” said Fewless. “There are rules, ethics, and regulations that all law enforcement officers must follow; otherwise we are no better than the accused.”
Lady Lake Police Chief Chris McKinstry sided with Fewless and added doesn’t believe Trump was asking the police to rough up suspects during his Friday speech.
“The President is a politician,” McKinstry said.
The Lady Lake police chief added his agency treats everyone with “dignity and respect regardless of the situation.”
Several law enforcement agencies around the country have criticized the speech for encouraging officers to be rough with suspects during arrests. The Gainesville Police Department said on Facebook the president “has no business endorsing or condoning cops being rough with arrestees and suggesting that we should slam their heads into the car while putting them in.”
While Eustis police detective Jim Franquiz did not address the speech itself when asked by the Central Florida Wire, he did say his agency will not lose focus by “erasing the strides it has made to build public trust” within the community.
“We hope our citizens recognize the hard work and professionalism our police officers have done to earn your trust and respect,” said Franquiz. “We being the professionals that we are, will continue to treat every citizen criminal or not with respect and dignity in the performance of our duties no matter the circumstances.”
Trump’s advising officers not to be “too nice” while transporting suspects drew laughter and cheers from the crowd of officers at the New York event.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a press conference Monday that Trump should not have been taken literally and she believed the president was joking.
Gainesville police spokesman Ben Tobias used Twitter to rebuff the president.
“I’m a cop,” he stated. “I do not agree with or condone @POTUS remarks (Friday) on police brutality. Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed.
“None of the local police officials questioned in Lake County said they felt there was a need to address the speech with their officers.
“No need to, the President or any other politician for that matter does not set our standard operating procedures,” said Fewless. “Our officers are responsible for enforcing the Florida State Statutes and ordinances adopted by the city, all while operating under the policy set forth by this agency.”