Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.
Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.
I would like to contribute
If Your Time is short
Trump’s claim ignores key initiatives and priorities of the Obama administration.
After the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Obama created a task force to specifically identify better policing practices.
Law enforcement and criminal justice experts said improving policing was a priority for the Obama administration and it investigated misconduct at local police departments.
Amid mounting calls from Americans for changes in policing practices and end to excessive use of force, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that he said is intended to encourage police departments to adopt the highest professional standards.
Reforming policing practices is difficult, and the Obama administration didn’t even try to do it because it didn’t know how to do so, Trump claimed.
"We will have reform without undermining our many great and extremely talented law enforcement officers," Trump said June 16. "President (Barack) Obama and Vice President (Joe) Biden never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period. The reason they didn't try is because they had no idea how to do it, and it is a complex situation."
PolitiFact reviewed measures taken by the Obama administration and consulted with law enforcement and criminal justice experts to evaluate Trump’s claim. Trump’s statement is wrong.
"The Obama administration did more with respect to police reform and misconduct than any administration in the modern area and it was a personal commitment for the president and for Attorney General Eric Holder," said David Kennedy, director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
We asked the White House and Trump’s reelection campaign for information that backed Trump’s claim. We did not hear back.
The task force issued its final report in May 2015, after holding public listening sessions across the country and getting testimony and recommendations from community and faith leaders, law enforcement officers, academics, and others.
One of the recommendations focused on law enforcement policies and community oversight, saying policies must reflect community values and not lead to practices with disparate impacts. Law enforcement agencies should have review boards that look into cases of officer-involved shootings and other serious incidents that can damage community trust or confidence in the agency, the report said.
"Not only should there be policies for deadly and nondeadly uses of force but a clearly stated ‘sanctity of life’ philosophy must also be in the forefront of every officer’s mind," the report said. "This way of thinking should be accompanied by rigorous practical ongoing training in an atmosphere of nonjudgmental and safe sharing of views with fellow officers about how they behaved in use of force situations."
The report "still serves as an important playbook for the policing field on where reform should be going," said Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and co-chair of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Beyond the task force, the Obama administration also investigated police departments for patterns or practices that violated constitutional or federal rights. Those investigations don’t center on one single incident. They examine broader behavior to determine whether there’s misconduct within a department. The administration also pushed for consent decrees, court-enforced negotiated agreements that specify remedies departments must implement to correct misconduct.
The notion that the Obama administration didn’t try police reform because they didn’t know what to do is not accurate, said Kennedy, the research center director at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The Obama-era policies were aimed at preventing police violence and police misconduct, improving policing and police-community relations, he said.
"That was an administration that made these issues a priority," said Kennedy, who was part of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice.
PolitiFact tracked more than a dozen promises Obama made about criminal justice, including his pledge to ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies. Toward the end of his tenure, we rated that a Compromise, because no related bill passed Congress during Obama's administration, but the Justice Department did overhaul its rules to address racial profiling.
In 2016, the Justice Department under Obama said it would continue to help implement the task force's findings and train law enforcement agents to recognize and address implicit bias, unconscious or subtle associations that individuals make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups.
Trump’s claim that Obama and Biden didn’t even try police reforms is "patently false," said Sean M. Smoot, director and chief legal counsel of the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois and a member of the Obama task force.
The Obama administration also sought funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services within the Justice Department. The office provides police departments technical and training assistance, hiring grants, and also access to mental health and wellness resources. Trump's budget proposals have sought to eliminate the office.
"Fortunately for the law enforcement field, Congress has rejected those budget requests and continues to fund the COPS office," Smoot said.
Trump said, "President Obama and Vice President Biden never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period."
The record shows that is not true. After the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and related racial justice protests, Obama established a task force to examine better policing practices. The Obama administration also investigated patterns or practices of misconduct in police departments and entered into court-binding agreements that require departments to correct misconduct.
We rate Trump’s statement False.
Rev.com, Donald Trump Press Conference Transcript on Policing, June 16, 2020
WhiteHouse.gov, Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities, June 16, 2020
Obama White House, Executive Order -- Establishment of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Dec. 18, 2014; Remarks by the President at the 122nd Annual IACP Conference, Oct. 27, 2015
U.S. Justice Department, The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office); Community Policing Defined; The National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice: Improving Police-Community Relations in Six U.S. Cities; The Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center
U.S. Justice Department, Final Report of The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, May 2015
U.S. Justice Department, Department of Justice Announces New Department-Wide Implicit Bias Training for Personnel, June 27, 2016
PolitiFact, The death of Michael Brown, legal facts and Democratic messaging, Aug. 14, 2019
PolitiFact, Promises about Crime on The Obameter
Wall Street Journal, Democrats Push to Block Trump-Requested Cuts to Community Policing Programs, June 5, 2020
Phone interview, Sean M. Smoot, director and chief legal counsel of the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois and a member of the Obama task force, June 17, 2020
Phone interview, David Kennedy, director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, June 17, 2020
Email interview, Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and co-chair of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, June 17, 2020
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.