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Trump’s ‘Toughness’ Is an Insult to Law Enforcement

Michael D. Tanner

By now, we’ve all seen the pictures: police officers and
sheriff’s deputies wading into Houston’s floodwaters to rescue
people, exhausted from working 20-hour shifts, disregarding their
own safety to help others. Nothing could be more emblematic of the
tens of thousands of professional law-enforcement officers in this
country who do a dangerous and underappreciated job every day.

That makes it even more disappointing that President Trump has
chosen to reward and highlight law enforcement at its very
worst.

First came the pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
While some segments of the president’s base cheered the move, it’s
hard to find a law officer who has shown more contempt for the law
itself.

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for blatantly
disregarding the orders of a federal judge. This was not a close
case. In fact, Arpaio openly bragged that he would refuse to comply
with the judge’s orders. The orders in question were designed to
stop Arpaio from violating the Fourth Amendment rights of Arizona’s
Latino residents with mass racially based roundups on the mere
suspicion that those targeted might be undocumented immigrants. In
fact, two different federal judges found against Arpaio’s office,
citing constitutional violations that were “broad in scope, involve
its highest ranking command staff, and flow into its management of
internal affairs investigations” and saying that he had “willfully
violated” court orders to correct those violations. That’s a far
cry from “just doing his job,” as the president claimed.

Ignoring court orders,
shackling women while they give birth, and roughing up suspects do
not exemplify good policing.

Moreover, this was hardly the only time that “Sheriff Joe” has
shown his disregard for Americans’ constitutional rights. During
his tenure as sheriff, at least 160 inmates died from brutality,
neglect, suicide, disease, bad health, or old age in Arpaio’s
jails. In many cases we have no way of knowing the cause of death,
because the sheriff’s office never bothered to investigate.

While Arpaio’s tough methods have won him applause from
law-and-order advocates, most of the attention has focused on
things like requiring inmates to wear pink underwear or limiting
meals to bologna sandwiches. Less publicized are tactics such as
forcing women to give birth while chained to their cots. Lawsuits
allege that the unsanitary conditions and brutality in Arpaio’s
jails resulted in dozens of miscarriages.

And before Arpaio’s supporters respond that those locked up in
Arpaio’s jails deserved what they got, we should note that most
county-jail inmates are not dangerous felons but people arrested
for minor drug offenses or infractions such as drunk driving or
failure to pay child support.

Altogether, settlements and lawsuits resulting from Arpaio’s
practices have cost Maricopa County taxpayers more than $200
million. Moreover, while Arpaio found time to champion the birther
movement, crime actually increased in the county during his tenure.
Just recently it came to light that his office apparently neglected
to pursue thousands of sex crimes.

This hardly makes Sheriff Joe a model law-enforcement
officer.

Trump followed up the Arpaio pardon with a tweet recommending a
new book by Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke. This would be the same
Sheriff Clarke who has had 15 inmates die in his jail since 2008.
One of those dead was a newborn. Guards repeatedly denied the
mother’s requests for help, and she received no medical attention
for some two hours after she was forced to give birth alone in her
cell. And according to a lawsuit, this wasn’t the only time Sheriff
Clarke replicated Arpaio’s methods: His jail allegedly forced at
least 40 pregnant women to wear “belly chains” and shackles while
they were in labor.

Another death in Clarke’s custody involved an inmate who died of
severe dehydration after reportedly being denied water for six
days. County officials have ruled the death a homicide, and it is
currently under investigation.

And Clarke’s lack of respect for the Constitution appears to
extend to the First Amendment. He has called for the suppression of
anti-Trump protests, saying, “There is no legitimate reason to
protest the will of the people.”

President Trump’s failure to understand what good policing is
all about should come as no surprise. The president himself has
suggested that police should rough up suspects when they take them
into custody. But this attitude, far from championing “law and
order,” is actually an insult to those brave and dedicated
officers, like those in Houston, who perform their jobs every day
with courage and character.

Michael
Tanner
is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author
of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement
Crisis.