President Donald Trump used a ceremony for fallen law enforcement officers on Wednesday to criticize big-city prosecutors he asserts don't go after criminals who pose a severe threat to public safety.
Trump pledged to the families of fallen officers that the country will "never, ever leave your side, never disappoint you" but went beyond memorializing for much of the annual event.
He singled out prosecutors in Philadelphia and Chicago as being part of a "dangerous trend" by deciding not to prosecute "many criminals who pose a severe threat to public safety and community well-being."
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Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has positioned himself as a champion of criminal justice reform. Krasner, a former defense attorney, has sought to reduce the prison population by seeking shorter sentences, cash bail reform for lower-level crimes and other progressive criminal justice policies.
”As a prosecutor, I’m used to being criticized by criminals," Krasner said of Trump's latest salvo in a statement to NBC10. "Donald Trump is invited to debate criminal justice reform with me in Philadelphia, where Police Department statistics show violent crime remains DOWN 5% since we took office. Warning, Mr. Trump: We will be using facts!”
Krasner has sparred with both the president and his appointees in the past.
In December of last year, U.S. Attorney William McSwain questioned Krasner's commitment to crime victims in the midst of rising homicide numbers in Philadelphia. In February of this year, McSwain sued Philadelphia to stop a nonprofit from opening a supervised drug injection site to combat the city's opioid crisis.
Krasner has repeatedly shot back, arguing that homicide rates have been rising in the city since before he took office. He also has noted that though homicides are up, overall violent crime is down.
"When you have an intelligent man walk out and the first thing out of his mouth is basically a lie about how crime is going up when it's not, you know what you're dealing with. You're dealing with Donald Trump. You're dealing with someone who will say anything to say whatever reaction he wants, and the truth is not an issue," Krasner told NBC10 in May of this year when questioned about McSwain's past criticism.
In Chicago, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office responded to President Trump in a statement stating that for years, "we have tried the old, failed way of indiscriminately locking up communities advocated by the Trump Justice Department, and too often what it got us was an ever growing prison population and way too many repeat offenders, especially in communities of color."
The office said it was committed to prosecuting those truly guilty of violent crimes, but fundamentally changing how it deals with nonviolent offenders.
The president also renewed his calls for changes to the nation's immigration laws, citing the shooting death last December of a Northern California police officer, Cpl. Ronil Singh. Trump said the suspect in Singh's killing could have been kept out with "border security, with the wall, with whatever the hell it takes." Paulo Virgen Mendoza, suspected of being in the country illegally, has pleaded not guilty in the case.
Trump also made an apparent reference to the case of actor Jussie Smollett, saying that "those who file false police reports should face full legal consequences."
The actor was charged with felony disorderly conduct and accused of making a false police report after claiming he was attacked by two masked men who shouted slurs at him and put a noose around his neck. The Cook County state's attorney's office abruptly dropped the charges in March.
The White House did not comment on whether Trump was specifically citing the Smollett case.
The 38th annual memorial service honored 228 peace officers who died in the line of duty last year.