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Mark Rivera

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Mark Rivera, Customer Retention Manager and CJIS Security Compliance Officer with Vigilant Solutions, served for sixteen years with the Maryland State Police, retiring at the rank of First Sergeant with thirteen of those years at the supervisory and command level. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Management from The Johns Hopkins University and Secret clearance through the FBI, Baltimore.

Cover Story

Obama and Law Enforcement: What Will He Do?

One of the most liberal presidents in recent U.S. history takes office this month. Will he be good or bad for cops?

January 01, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Crime and Punishment

During the heat of a campaign most liberal presidential candidates get characterized as soft on crime. Obama's record on this issue is more centrist than say a Michael Dukakis or a John Kerry.

As a U.S. senator, he has co-sponsored legislation to combat methamphetamine production and use, helped establish a national database of sex offenders under the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act, supported reauthorization of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, and sought to expand the hate crimes statutes with the Matthew Shepard Act.

Also, while serving in the Illinois State Senate, Obama worked with law enforcement to establish a compromise on a bill that would have made it necessary for agencies to videotape all capital crimes interrogations. Under that compromise, smaller agencies with no video equipment are allowed to audio tape the interrogation.

But make no mistake about it, Obama was a liberal legislator both at the state and the national level. For every cop-friendly, pro-law and order stance that he has taken in his career, he has also taken at least one predictably liberal stance. He opposed an Illinois bill that would have mandated the death penalty for gang members who kill cops; he supports drug courts for "non-violent" drug offenders; he wants crack cocaine penalties to match powder cocaine penalties; and he helped draft a racial profiling law that requires Illinois officers to record the race, age, and gender of all drivers they stop for traffic violations so that it can be analyzed by the state.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, says that he believes Obama is a practical man. And that conservative law enforcement officers should not worry so much that the new president is a liberal. "A principled liberal just like a principled conservative is no threat to the republic," Pasco says.

Pasco adds that Obama's history shows that he is willing to work with law enforcement to find a middle ground. "I am told by the Illinois FOP, by the state president and by the Chicago president, that while Obama was in the state legislature he was instrumental in crafting a compromise [on racial profiling] that our members could live with."

The FOP endorsed Republican John McCain in the presidential election. Yet Pasco believes it can work with Obama.

The National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) did endorse Obama, primarily because of his support for collective bargaining legislation that covers public safety officers nationwide. But NAPO also says it believes law enforcement will receive more funding from the Obama administration than it would have from McCain.

"In no way do we feel that President Obama is going to be 'happy land,'" says Andy Mournighan, NAPO's director of governmental affairs. "We have no guarantees, but we are looking forward to more funding and more federal support for state and local law enforcement."

Mournighan says that NAPO was very pleased with the Clinton administration's approach to funding law enforcement, and it expects that Obama will also loosen the spigot on grants for additional personnel and training.

Former Clinton administration "Drug Czar" and former NYPD commissioner Lee Brown also believes that the Obama administration will be good for law enforcement funding. "Under President Bush we have seen a cutback in the monies available for law enforcement and criminal justice. I think there will be a major difference when President Obama takes over," Brown says.

Brown, former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), says that he and IACP have called for the new Obama administration to create a commission on crime similar to the one that the Johnson administration created in 1967. "We have to bring together the best minds in the country from all disciplines to look at what can be done to reverse the trend of crime." According to Brown, the new president is receptive to the idea. "He has consistently indicated his support for law enforcement and that he will be more accessible to the leaders in law enforcement [than President Bush]. That being the case, they can lay out the issues as they see them and with the receptive ear of the president, I believe we can get things done."

Gun Control

So much has been written about President Obama and guns that there's no reason to spend a lot of time discussing it here. The Internet is on fire with pro-gun groups claiming that Obama is going to make it more difficult, if not impossible, to buy semi-auto pistols and so-called "assault rifles." Consequently, at a time when the rest of the country is financially depressed and nobody is buying anything, gun stores are making monumental sales.

Is there reason for all of this panic? Maybe.

Obama has come out in favor of the rights of cities to regulate gun ownership; he supports laws that allow victims of gun violence to sue gun manufacturers; he didn't support a law in the Illinois Senate to exempt from prosecution people who use guns to defend their homes and families in cities that prohibit gun ownership; his Attorney General nominee Eric Holder filed a friend of the court brief supporting the District of Columbia's draconian gun restrictions in D.C. v. Heller; and Vice President Joe Biden authored the 1994 crime bill that included the assault weapon ban.

All of that said, Obama has supported law enforcement access to guns, including concealed carry for off-duty and retired law enforcement officers. And experts say there is no interest in Congress in rolling back the officer carry law known as H.R. 218.

FOP's Pasco believes the panic over Obama and gun control is just that, panic. "We specifically asked President Obama in a meeting last June what he favored in the way of additional firearms legislation. His response to us was that he would not support any firearms legislation that the FOP did not support. At this point we are not supporting any firearms legislation. And we take him at his word."

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