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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

Homeland Security

If you read Barack Obama's position papers on homeland security and anti-terrorism, they sound great. He wants to strengthen cyber-security, secure chemical plants, prevent nuclear and bio terror attacks, monitor ports, enhance airline security, tighten border security, and in general make America safer.

It sounds wonderful. But it's short on details such as how do you accomplish these things and who is going to pay for it.

One of the first things that President Obama is likely to accomplish in this area is really pretty easy to do. He will remove the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from the Department of Homeland Security. Experts contacted for this article applaud this move.

"Culturally, FEMA does not belong in DHS," says FOP's Pasco. "Culturally, police officers are proactive. They work to prevent things from happening. Culturally, FEMA is reactive. FEMA officials show up after something has happened and try to make things better. We opposed putting FEMA into DHS in the first place, and we would support any effort by Obama to move it out of there."

Another change that Obama wants to make at DHS is to allocate Homeland Security grants based on need and threat level and not to every agency. On the campaign trail he said that DHS grants had been transformed into "pork" by Congress. Lobbyists and law enforcement officials are skeptical that he can do anything to end this practice. They shrug their shoulders and say that it's just the way that Washington works.

One specific homeland security detail that Obama says he wants to address is improving communications between public safety agencies. He has even proposed creating the position of National Chief Technology Officer that would be responsible for making sure that law enforcement has the tools it needs to respond to mass casualty incidents.

Of course, the biggest concern that homeland security hawks have about Obama is his belief that terrorism is a law enforcement, not a military, concern. They fear that his desire to close the Camp X-Ray detention camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base; his opposition to wiretaps; his stance on Iraq; and his belief that terrorists can be tried in federal courts may lead to more 9/11s and handcuff American intelligence operations in the War on Terror.

Only time will tell. But it should be noted that President Obama may be more reluctant to limit anti-terrorism measures than candidate Obama. One month after the election, he was already receiving flak from anti-war groups such as Code Pink for his cabinet nominees. And as a senator, he did vote to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act.

What this means is that Obama will likely take a centrist point of view on homeland security and neither Code Pink nor homeland security hawks will be happy during the next four years.

Illegal Immigration

President Obama supports immigration reform. He believes that illegal immigrants who pay a nominal fine, learn English, and have not violated any other laws should have access to a path to citizenship. Opponents of this reform call it "amnesty."

The one thing that both sides can agree on is that the system as it exists is broken. Nobody knows this better than the men and women of the DHS agency called Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

John Clark, former deputy assistant secretary for ICE, says he is optimistic that President Obama and the next Congress can address immigration. As is, he says ICE officers are frustrated by the nation's schizophrenia about illegal immigration.

"We could do too much or too little," Clark says. "It didn't matter. There was always somebody on the other side saying more or less or whatever."

One person who said that ICE was doing too much was President Obama himself.

In a speech to the National Council of La Raza in San Diego last June, Obama told the audience that the nation's immigration system "isn't working" and "communities are being terrorized by ICE and nursing mothers are being torn from their babies."

That comment elicited howls of protest from the Federal Law Enforcement Officer's Association, and Obama backpedaled.

Clark says such comments are infuriating. "We were given laws to uphold and enforce, and our politicians who can't seem to grapple with the immigration problem are pointing fingers at us saying we're not doing the right thing."

He adds: "Interior immigration enforcement is very, very sticky. Having been messed up as long as it has, it's almost an impossible task trying to make some sense of it and use the resources we have to do the job."

Perhaps more than anything Obama has said or done, his appointment of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to head DHS gives Clark reason to believe that illegal immigration will be a front burner issue in the new administration. "She came to our headquarters and discussed some issues, and I am cautiously optimistic that she's a very good pick. I think the way she's been dealing with the immigration issue in Arizona is a pretty good model."

Interesting Times

In our October Briefing Room survey, POLICE asked our readers if they were voting for McCain or Obama. More than 82 percent said they were voting for McCain.

The overwhelming majority of POLICE readers did not vote for Obama, but he is now president.

Whether that will be good or bad for American law enforcement no one really knows. What we do know is that the next four years will be interesting. Of course, "interesting" doesn't necessarily mean good.

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Tags: Immigration Enforcement, DHS, U.S. Supreme Court, Homeland Security Grants, FOP, Barack Obama, Gun Control Advocacy


Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

ROB ROY @ 1/21/2009 9:12 PM

With economy totally screwed up like it is i doubt we have alot to worry about as far as gun control, homeland security and so on. I'am also a gun dealer as my side job, and yes the liberal tri fecta has been good for business..... If these idiot's clean up the mess we call the ecomomy (which we all know thier the one's responsible for putting it in the toilet). We are so SCREWED!!!!

walkin' trails @ 1/22/2009 5:22 AM

Its going to be the next four years. Every badge toter needs to know how to contact his/her elected representatives and make his/her views known, at least as private citizens. I agree that President Obama, best case scenario, will only have the chance to swap liberal for liberal at the Supreme Court. On the other hand, we all expect the conservative justices to stay seated. Hopefully they will enjoy excellent health and be able to serve at least another four years. The wild card in this whole situation is the DNC controlling the Congress. The Senate and House were full of democrats cut from the same cloth as Zell Miller, then we'd feel more secure. The last thing the new president needs is for a liberal agenda to be pressed forth too fast, too soon. A major terrorist attack or an economy that will not improve are not going to help him get reelected. I've been encountering quite a few illegal aliens who can't find work at present, and that might have some bearing on the immigration issue without governmental action. Gun control is one area where we must keep our eyes open, because that one issue will effect us all somewhere down the road. I did not vote for President Obama, but I have no interest in seeing him fail as our leader for the next four years, because if he fails, we hurt.

j706 @ 1/24/2009 11:14 PM

Obama said "he would not support any gun control the the FOP didn't support"? He might have said that but I would bet money that he supports any and all gun control bills that come up! Any takers on the bet?

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