News and Commentary

Barr Explains What He Meant When He Warned: Disrespect Police, Risk Not Having Police Protection
William Barr, attorney general nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, smiles during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Barr says he'd let Special Counsel Robert Mueller "complete his work" and that he'd provide Congress and the public as much of the findings in the Russia probe as possible
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr explained on Tuesday what he meant earlier this month when he warned at an awards ceremony that if people do not start respecting law enforcement that they may not have law enforcement to protect them when they need it.

Barr, whose remarks triggered the political Left into making accusations of racism, made the comments while honoring some of the nation’s finest law enforcement officers with the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing at the Great Hall of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department Building in Washington, D.C.

“You gave a speech last week here in the building, an award presentation to some police officers and you said something that got a lot of attention,” NBC’s Pete Williams said. “You talked about how people applaud with military veterans, they see them in the airport. People come back from combat, they get ticker-tape parades, not so for police. And you said, this is a quote, ‘if communities don’t give that respect and support the police, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.’”

“What do you mean by that?” Williams asked.

“That was a somewhat condensed version of a speech I’d given to the fraternal order of police in New Orleans,” Barr responded. “We’re in a crisis right now; it’s not something that has been adequately covered by the media, but we’re in a full employment economy. And one of the toughest jobs we have in the country is policing. And it’s getting tougher and tougher, these are the points I was making in that recent more abbreviated version.”

“So it’s very hard to recruit people these days in this full employment economy for these tough jobs,” Barr continued. “That’s why virtually every police force in the country is way under strength. They have vacancies. As the jobs get tougher, we’re seeing a very high suicide rate now among police and I’m saying that we have to focus on this and start valuing the people who serve us as police officers and show them support and respect. Just the way we do our military forces. Or else, we’re not going to be able to attract people into this profession and we’re not going to end up with police forces, that was my point.”

“But you’re not saying people shouldn’t criticize the police if they think there’s misconduct?” Williams asked.

“No,” Barr responded.


Here is the portion of Barr’s speech that triggered the Left [emphasis added]:

… I remember, a long time ago when the first Gulf War was fought and the 24th Division rolled out of Fort Stewart, Georgia, and there were people cheering along the highway as they drove off to the port of embarkation. And then of course when the troops returned in victory there was a ticker tape parade in several cities, including Washington, DC, and rightly so. But when police officers roll out of their precincts every morning there are no crowds along the highway cheering them on. And when you go home at the end of the day, there’s no ticker tape parade.

Now one of the reasons is that we’re fighting in law enforcement a different kind of conflict. We’re fighting an unrelenting, never ending fight against criminal predators in our society. While there are battles won and lost each day, there is never a final resolution. A final victory is never in sight. And yet we, and you, continue to perform your duty of protecting the community day in and day out and that takes a very special kind of courage to wage this kind of fight. A special kind of commitment. A special kind of sacrifice.

You know in the Vietnam era, our country learned a lesson. I remember that our brave troops who served in that conflict weren’t treated very well, in many cases, when they came home. And sometimes they bore the brunt of people who were opposed to the war. And the respect and gratitude owed them was not given. And it took decades for the American people to finally realize that. And I’m very happy today when, I’m at an airport, and troops come through, coming back or being deployed. Everything stops and they get a round of applause because people recognize that that’s the right thing to do for these people who are serving us.

But I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And, they have to start showing more than they do ― the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they may find themselves without the police protection they need. …

Despite the Left’s accusations of racism over his remarks, it was obvious to anyone who knows how to use Google that Barr was speaking about the shortage of police officers nationwide.

In December 2018, The Washington Post wrote a report titled “Who wants to be a police officer? Job applications plummet at most U.S. departments,” which stated:

Nationwide, interest in becoming a police officer is down significantly. In Nashville, job applications dropped from 4,700 in 2010 to 1,900 last year. In Seattle, applications have declined by nearly 50 percent in a department where the starting salary is $79,000. Even the FBI had a sharp drop, from 21,000 applications per year to 13,000 last year, before a new marketing campaign brought an upswing.

And retaining officers once they’ve joined is getting harder, too. In a [Police Executive Research Forum] PERF survey of nearly 400 police departments, 29 percent of those who left their police job voluntarily had been on the force less than a year, and an additional 40 percent had been on the job less than five years. At a PERF gathering in Washington on Tuesday of police chiefs and commanders from across the country, many attributed their declining numbers to a diminished perception of police in the years after the shooting and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 and an increase in public and media scrutiny of police made possible by technology and social media.

The Post noted that Seattle Deputy Police Chief Marc Garth Green indicated that wage earnings were not what was creating the recruitment shortage of police officers.

“Number one is validation,” Green said. “The validation that they’re putting their life on the line. There’s no respect for that.”