NPR’s Audie Cornish talks with Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, about changing law enforcement and the rioting in Baltimore.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
For more, we turn to Chuck Canterbury. He’s the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. Thank you for joining us.
CHUCK CANTERBURY: Glad to be here, Audie.
CORNISH: Can you give us a sense of what you’re feeling watching what’s happening in Baltimore?
CANTERBURY: Well, I think that there’s a huge amount of criminality in Baltimore that has nothing to do with the peaceful protest on the death of Mr. Gray. The people that were looting the CVS and the cellphone place were taking advantage of a bad situation, and I think they’ve brought a lot of disfavor on the peaceful protest. There’s nobody that supports peaceful protest more than law enforcement. Our job is to protect peaceful protesters and allow that. Our country’s been built on peaceful protest, and we support that right. But we don’t support the right of an unruly criminal crowd injuring 15 officers.
CORNISH: And today, President Obama weighed in and mentioned your organization at one point. Let’s take a listen.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think it’s going to important for organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions and organizations to acknowledge that this not good for police. We have to own up to the fact that occasionally there are going to be problems here, just as there are in every other occupation.
CORNISH: Chuck Canterbury, what’s your reaction to that?
CANTERBURY: Well, we agree with the president. Police officers aren’t perfect. Police officers make mistakes, but officers deserve due process if they’ve made a mistake. Then the system of criminal justice will work, but the officers should receive the same due process as anybody else.
CORNISH: When you look at some of these departments that have been embroiled in controversy, what do you make of the tensions that already exist? Sometimes these protests aren’t sparked randomly. In the case of Baltimore, this is a city that between 2011 and 2014 paid out nearly $6 million to victims of police brutality. When you look at a department like that and you see tensions that already exist, is this really a surprise, the response?
CANTERBURY: I think the tensions are there in a lot of areas, and I think there’s one common denominator. In any place that there’s tension with police officers, there’s abject poverty. And politicians tend to use their law enforcement as the only form of government that those neighborhoods ever see. They’re normally high-crime areas, and the police department cannot and is not alone in trying to fix the problems of those neighborhoods. There’s over 60,000 police officers assaulted every year. The vast majority of those occur in the same areas that these tensions are felt in.
CORNISH: Chuck Canterbury, what has it been like? What are you hearing from your officers? With each and every report in a different city of a different young man – an often African-American man – dying, what has this been like?
CANTERBURY: Well, it’s caused a lot of tension in law enforcement, too. I mean, police officers don’t like bad cops. We don’t want to work beside a bad cop, and anytime we see an incident that we feel is inappropriate, it causes all of law enforcement to be sad that that’s occurring. But we believe that there needs to be collaborative efforts and not mandated consent decrees that are hard to enforce. As the police union, we stand ready to work with all of the groups to make life better. But again, the average police officer on the street does not make the policy decisions that cause problems, for instance, in Baltimore. Many of my members feel like the Baltimore police command let things get out of hand and ultimately caused more injuries and more damage to property than if they would have taken swift, quick action.
CORNISH: I just want to follow up on something you’ve said here. If things are not mandatory, right, if there aren’t consent decrees, there is a perception that there won’t be change, that there’s been ample opportunity for change and police unions haven’t embraced it.
CANTERBURY: That’s not true. Police unions have embraced it. Most of the time, if we’re included in the discussions, the rank and file will provide the investigative agency the evidence that’s required for lack of training, the lack of staffing levels, poor equipment, morale issues that caused the problems. The collaborative agreement that was entered into in Cincinnati is one that the Obama administration points to all the time, and they still meet biweekly with every group that was involved in that collaborative. And it’s been going on for over 10 years now, and it’s worked.
CORNISH: Chuck Canterbury – he’s national president for the FOP – the Fraternal Order of Police. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
CANTERBURY: Thanks a lot for having us.
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