A presidential visit to Suffolk County ended with the Suffolk County Police Department distancing itself from President Donald Trump’s (R) comments encouraging police officers to use more force with suspects at an event in Brentwood Friday, July 28.
“Please don’t be too nice,” Trump said to an audience of Suffolk County Police officers. “When you guys put somebody in their [police] car and you’re protecting their head, you know the way you put your hand over their head? Like don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. I said you can take the hand away okay?”
Officers broke into laughter and applause after Trump’s remarks, however less than two hours after he spoke police departments and organizations throughout the country came out to condemn Trump’s words.
“As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners,” the Suffolk department said in a statement on Twitter. “The SCPD has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.”
For Suffolk County, the subject of police brutality is especially important, as disgraced former police chief James Burke was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for use of violent force with suspect Christopher Loeb, along with attempting to cover up his efforts and more.
During the trial Loeb, who was imprisoned for a parole violation said the incident changed his life, according to a report from The New York Times.
“I will never again feel comfortable in Suffolk County, the place I used to call home,” he said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) vowed to “reform [Suffolk County] governmentally and politically in a way that we can ensure this doesn’t happen again,” as a result of the details of Burke’s crimes becoming public.
Trump traveled to Suffolk to talk about efforts to eradicate gang violence, particularly with MS-13, which has been associated with violent criminal offenses in the past year in the county, especially in Brentwood.
Other police departments also condemned Trump’s rhetoric.
“To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public,” a statement from the New York City Police Department said.
One police officer from Gainesville, Florida directly called out both the president and the Suffolk cops who cheered on his remarks.
“I’m a cop,” Ben Tobias said on Twitter. “I do not agree with or condone POTUS remarks today on police brutality. Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed.”
Despite the reaction from the crowd, the Suffolk County Police Department was quick to distance itself from Trump’s remarks.
U.S. Rep Lee Zeldin (R) traveled with Trump throughout his trip to Long Island and praised the president for his efforts.
“This administration has taken a hard stance against gang activity, and it is imperative that we come together as one community in rejection of this violence which has claimed too many innocent lives,” he said in a statement. “It is our obligation to make eradicating this criminal organization a top priority.”
Zeldin did not respond to requests for comment regarding Trump’s encouragement of police using less restraint with suspects.
Outside the event Trump supporters were grateful to have the president come and focus on their issues.
Smithtown resident Angela Martinez spoke in support for the president.
“This is the best, Trump coming here,” she said in an interview. “This is supposed to be good for the Island, this is supposed to be good for the community. The community really needs to work together.”
Additional reporting contributed by Kyle Barr.