The promise of “a new era in justice” coming out of Washington is being well-received by law enforcement leaders in the Kansas City area.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that the new era “begins right now” during the swearing-in ceremony for new Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Earlier in the week, Trump spoke with leaders from the National Sheriffs’ Association and told them, “Our job is to help you in law enforcement, and we’re going to help you do your job.”
“We’re overjoyed by that,” Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden said of the vow from the new administration. “We are looking forward to a refreshing change.”
On Thursday, the new attorney general vowed to “deploy the talents and abilities of the Department of Justice in the most effective way possible to confront this rise in crime and protect the people of our country.”
Trump used Thursday’s ceremony to sign executive orders targeting criminal gangs and drug cartels and violent attacks on law enforcement officers. The president also directed the Department of Justice to form a task force to find ways to reduce violent crime.
While some American cities, including Kansas City, saw a sharp spike in homicides last year, the president’s assertion that the country’s murder rate was the highest it’s been in 47 years is not supported by data compiled by the FBI.
In recent years, law enforcement officers across the country have experienced a demoralizing drop in public support that many refer to as the “Ferguson effect.”
Clay County Sheriff Paul Vescovo said many officers feel like they are under siege.
“I know that because of a lot of the things that have transpired over the years that a lot in law enforcement feel they don’t have the support,” Vescovo said. “I know he (Sessions) speaks about supporting law enforcement, and that’s something that I can look forward to see getting done.”
Brad Lemon, president of Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 99, said the local group shared and echoed the sentiments of its national president, who praised the Sessions confirmation.
“Today, the men and women in law enforcement can proudly say that ‘police first’ Jeff Sessions is our top cop,” Chuck Canterbury, the Fraternal Order of Police national president, said in a written statement.
Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd said he believes Sessions has “outstanding qualifications.”
“He has experience in both the state and federal criminal justice systems, which is important given that the vast majority of crimes are prosecuted at the state level,” Zahnd said.
While Johnson County enjoys strong local community support for law enforcement, Hayden said his office has found it difficult in recent years to find people interested in a law enforcement career.
“Recruiting is our No. 1 issue right now,” he said.
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said law enforcement officers have a tough job, and the majority of them are doing it for the right reasons.
“Any support for law enforcement and the good job they do is a positive step,” Howe said.
Howe was among a delegation of Kansas prosecutors who recently met in Washington with members of Congress to discuss issues facing the law enforcement community.
“The criminal justice system is forced to deal with the mentally ill and substance-abuse issues, like the opiate epidemic,” said Howe, president of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association. “This is putting a strain on the system and costing taxpayers.”
In his remarks to the national sheriff’s group, Trump said his administration was committed to finding solutions to some of those problems.
“The proof will be in the pudding for this new administration,” said Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson. “The root of most of our crime is still drugs. I hope the new administration realizes that. If they want less inmates, then we need to see more attention to mental health and drug rehabilitation facilities. We focus on this, we should see a reduction in crime.”