Why did the country's largest police union endorse Donald Trump?

The union says that it looks for presidential candidates who are tough on crime and who advocate for officer safety and fair treatment as public employees.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters/File
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to police gathered at a Fraternal Order of Police lodge during a campaign event in Statesville, N.C., on Aug. 18. The national union endorsed Mr. Trump on Friday.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump secured an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police on Friday, one month after he told the union’s North Carolina chapter, “I’m on your side, 1,000 percent.”

Mr. Trump issued a 12-page response to a policy questionnaire from the law enforcement union, which represents some 330,000 officers across 46 states and the District of Columbia, and he met with FOP leaders last month at Trump Tower.

“His representations to us, both in his public statements about police and in our meeting with him as a follow-up to the questionnaire, he made commitments to us that he would support law enforcement if he was elected, and keep our views in mind as he undertook to uphold the threshold responsibility of a president, which is to protect public safety,” Jim Pasco, national FOP executive director, told The Washington Post.

The union’s endorsement comes at a time of heightened national attention to discord between police forces and the communities they serve. Citing that tension, The Boston Globe editorial board urged the FOP to refrain from endorsing Trump.

“Officially aligning thousands of rank-and-file police officers with such a bigoted candidate would feed negative views of the police, chill community relationships, and ultimately make officers’ jobs harder,” the board wrote, adding that a Trump endorsement “risks pouring fuel on the fire.”

Since the Republican National Convention, Trump has billed himself as the “law and order” candidate. Even though he didn’t commit to every FOP policy position in the questionnaire, at least two-thirds of the national board, composed of representatives from the state lodges, voted to endorse Trump.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, did not meet with FOP leaders and did not respond to their questionnaire until weeks after the deadline, FOP national President Chuck Canterbury said.

“Obviously, this is an unusual election,” Mr. Canterbury said Friday in a statement. “We have a candidate who declined to seek an endorsement and a candidate without any record as an elected official.”

Canterbury added that Trump has assessed law enforcement policy issues, supports FOP priorities, and will do what it takes to “make America safe again.”

Ms. Clinton, who has aligned more closely than Trump has with proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement, has called for reforms to the criminal justice system and police tactics, inviting criticism from some in law enforcement, as Politico reported.

But the union did not have to endorse either Trump or Clinton, just as it declined to endorse anyone for president in 2012, for the first time in its history. “It would be irresponsible for us to support either candidate,” Canterbury noted in a statement at the time. (While the union had endorsed Republicans during each presidential election after it backed Bill Clinton in 1996, the FOP is a traditional union that took issue with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s plans to limit collective bargaining, as Politico pointed out.)

In explaining the rationale behind its presidential endorsements this year, the union noted that significant points of disagreement may remain between law enforcement officers and the presidential candidates they back.

“It is important to recognize that there is not and never will be a candidate with whom we will agree 100% of the time,” the union said in July. “Our goal here is to carefully and deliberately review the candidates, their responses, and their history on the issues that matter to us and then make an informed decision as to which would best serve the interests of our fraternity.”

As the nation’s oldest and largest police union, the statement added, the FOP advocates for “an emphasis on officer safety, fair treatment for law enforcement as public employees and tough anti-crime measures.”

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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