Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Barack Obama speaks at the 122nd International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, in Chicago. Obama thanked the law enforcement leaders for the sacrifices they make and the work they do each day to keep their communities safe.

Are cops too often made out to be scapegoats? Obama says yes

Tuesday's speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police marked the first time in two decades that a sitting president addressed the organization. 

Addressing a group of law enforcement leaders from around the country Tuesday, President Obama suggested that police officers don’t deserve the bad rap they sometimes face and that they are too often blamed for social and cultural matters outside their control.

In his prepared remarks to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Mr. Obama also made a case for tougher gun regulations as part of his broader criminal justice reform campaign. Inadequate gun laws, he says, are one of many factors that have lead American society to mistakenly antagonize cops as the culprit for inequality.

“Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and criminal justice system,” he said. “I know that you do your jobs with distinction no matter the challenges you face. That’s part of wearing the badge.”

According to IACP president Richard M. Beary, Obama’s appearance was the first time in 20 years a sitting president has addressed the organization.

Some members of the audience, however, might have been wary of the president’s stance on criminal justice. Just last week, Obama defended the Black Lives Matter movement, explaining that the activists address a real and entirely unique issue faced by black communities.

"I think that the reason that the organizers used the phrase Black Lives Matter was not because they were suggesting that no one else’s lives matter ... rather what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African American community that’s not happening in other communities," Obama said Thursday at a forum for criminal justice reform. "And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address."

While some critics say Obama may be straddling a difficult divergence by defending both cops and Black Lives Matter, the president is not alone in trying to bridge this gap. 

Common ground can certainly be found on this issue, Doug Jones, former US attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and a member of the Law Enforcement Leaders To Reduce Crime And Incarceration, tells The Christian Science Monitor. Jones's organization is made up of more than 100 police chiefs, prosecutors, and attorneys general from across the country, and together, they aim to reduce incarceration and strengthen ties among police and their communities.

The media certainly exaggerates the divisions regarding criminal justice reform, Jones says, "but we are starting to have dialogue now, in which everyone is taking a step back and talking to each other instead of talking at each other." 

"The problem that exists, it exists for everyone," he adds. 

In his speech on Tuesday, Obama echoed the sentiment that the media too often frames a narrative of polarization.

“I reject any narrative that seeks to divide police and communities they serve – that frames any discussion of public safety around ‘us’ and ‘them,’” he said. “A narrative that too often gets served up to us by cable news seeking ratings, tweets seeking retweets, or political candidates seeking some attention.”

Obama's comments come on the heels of FBI director James Comey’s controversial remarks about what he called “the Ferguson effect” – a suggestion that crimes have spiked because cops are afraid to do their jobs under the unfair scrutiny of the public.

The White House was quick to disagree. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said a briefing that the evidence “does not support the notion that law enforcement officers around the country are shying away from fulfilling their responsibilities.”

Some police have also expressed dismay over Comey’s claim that cell phone videos and viral content threaten the competence of officers.

“Time and time again [Comey] generalizes about a segment of the population that he knows nothing about,” James O. Pasco Jr., executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, told The Washington Post. “He has never been a police officer.”

In light of the collective – albeit polemic – frustration over the deaths of unarmed black men and the subsequent backlash against cops, Obama’s call for criminal justice reform may not be so divisive after all, suggests Jones.

Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, for instance, is just one organization of police figures who are also working towards bipartisan reform.

While he recognizes the tension between cops and activists taken with the Black Lives Matter movement, Jones says there's an upward trend of empathy.

"Law enforcement authorities are now realizing they need to do a better job in community relations. When that happens, everyone benefits."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Are cops too often made out to be scapegoats? Obama says yes
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today