President Obama spoke at the 122nd International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference and Exposition in Chicago on Tuesday to share his perspectives on the issues of guns and police that have been at the forefront of national and local news.
The IACP conference took place from Oct. 24 through Oct. 27 at McCormick Place West in Chicago. It was the largest law enforcement event of the year in which more than 14,000 public safety professionals learn more about technology and techniques they can apply to their work.
Obama began the speech with an anecdote about a police officer killed in the line of duty.
“Holder didn’t run towards danger because he thought of himself as a hero,” Obama said. “He was a cop. It was part of his job description.”
He then thanked all of the officers present for their services and for “risking [their] lives so the rest of us don’t have to.”
He talked about the work his administration has done to hire more officers and offer more training and funding.
He also said that we need to change the criminal justice system in multiple ways. He advocated for helping minority communities, imposing shorter sentences and creating reform programs for non-violent criminals, and for integrating police officers into their communities.
“Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and our criminal justice system,” Obama said. “We can’t expect you to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren’t willing to face or do anything about; problems relating to substandard education, to a shortage of jobs and opportunities, an absence of drug treatment programs and laws that [make it] easier for a young person to purchase a gun than a book.”
Obama also called for shorter terms and rehabilitation for non-violent criminals. "Our prisons are crowded, with not only hardcore violent offenders, but also some non-violent offenders serving very long sentences for drug crimes at taxpayer expense,” he said, and continued on to promote the idea of programs in prisons to encourage employment upon release.
He said that police officers can contribute to a better system by integrating themselves into their communities and getting to know the people who make them up.
Then he turned to the topic of gun control, but painted it as an issue of police safety, saying that in states with high gun ownership, police officers are three times more likely to be murdered.
At the same time, however, he tried to dispel what he perceives are misconceptions about his views on gun control.
“Please do not believe this notion somehow that I’m out to take everybody’s gun away,” Obama said. “We’re talking about common sense measures to make sure criminals don’t get [guns], to make sure background checks work, and to make sure that we’re protecting ourselves.”
He made sure to end on an inspirational note, telling the story of a white police officer who, after encountering a black woman who stole eggs to feed her grandchildren, bought the woman eggs rather than arresting her.
“At our best, we’re in this together.”