On Tuesday, President Barack Obama addressed the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the 122nd Annual IACP Conference and Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. This was the largest gathering of law enforcement leaders in the world with more than 14,000 public safety professionals and 700 exhibiting companies in attendance from October 24-27 at McCormick Place. The IACP has played a prominent role in furthering many of the Administration’s criminal justice efforts. The President joined more than 75 administration officials, including U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who also participated in the IACP Conference this year.
He addressed the room making sure that attendees understood that he was well aware of the day to day duties that officers perform daily. “Everyday you risk your life so that others are protected. By the way, your families serve beside you,” President Obama said. “On behalf of the American people, thank you, thank you—thank you.”
As his image appeared on two huge jumbo screens and his voice resonated throughout the McCormick Place convention hall, he pointed to the audience. “This country is safe because of your efforts, look at the statistics. Police have helped cut the homicide and murder rate by almost half.” He clearly wanted a message to be conveyed to police chiefs before he hammered into the controversial side of where improvement lies.
“Lesser known are the countless acts of kindness, helpfulness that you officers perform in your neighborhood everyday. I reject a story line that says, ‘When it comes to public safety, it’s an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.”
But just some thirty blocks South in Hyde Park, where the Obama family house sits on a quiet street, has also experienced gun violence. Just over a mile away Hadiya Pendleton lost her life in Harsh Park in 2013. He reminded attendees that he understands first hand, “People want more police presence not less,” the President said.
“Data shows violent crimes are low- er than last year and significantly lower than they were in previous decades, including here in Chicago. Gun violence and homicides have spiked—in some cases it has spiked significantly.
Across the nation, we are still enjoying lower.” The President pointed out the importance of Congress finally getting closer to passing a budget that will keep the government and country working on behalf of Americans. With the following key points that he is committed to providing more federal government assistance:
1)Resources 2) Criminal Justice re- form to make jobs fair 3) Reducing the risks for officers in the field with ‘common sense’ safety laws. 4) Creating a blue alert system.
Being in his hometown of Chicago, the President stood his firmly, staring sharply into the crowd, he discussed the uncomfortable elephant in the room – racial bias and mistrust between minorities and police officers.
He said, “Good community policing has to be a two-way street. The communities that desperately need effective policing have to give police officers the benefit of the doubt. They have to work with the Police Department to make sure you have the resources to effectively implement the strategies that we know work.” The room erupted into applause from the majority of law enforcement officers but the President went on to drive his point home.
“The flip side of it is when an individual officer does display bias or insensitive force which is going to happen just like there’s going to be politicians that do stupid things or business leaders that do stupid things,” President Obama continued. “Sometimes people screw up. We have to have departments that honestly and fairly address it and not just close ranks and stand down.”
As he wrapped up his keynote to the full house of registrant attendees of the IACP conference, President Obama left them with this ‘food for thought’.
“We can’t stop every crime, or prevent every tragedy. There’s just some bad people. You don’t know why. Sometimes, it just is. You can’t always make excuses for it – sometimes you can’t even understand it. That’s why we need laws, that’s why we need law enforcement. That’s why your job is dangerous,” he said, “We can’t eliminate all of that but if we take some of the actions that I’ve talked about; we can be able to help you do what you do everyday which is save people’s lives. We’ll make sure that society is a partner with law enforcement. We’re all working together tackling these hard problems.”