Retired cop Paul Beakman Jr. has been a pro-union Democrat his entire life. He heads two western New York police associations and is even running as a Democrat for city alderman in Lockport, New York.
So he surprised himself when he attended a Trump rally last month outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — and wept at the outpouring of respect and support he felt for law enforcement.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he told The Washington Times. “I just started crying. I am used to hearing about cops being spit on and having bags of feces thrown at us. And here we were with 17,000 real Americans cheering for us.”
To endorse Mr. Trump, police unions and associations across the country are bucking the AFL-CIO.
They also are mobilizing like never before.
“We’ve always been active, but the future of policing depends on this election,” said Paul DiGiacomo, president of the New York City Detectives’ Endowment Association. “The safety of our members depends on this election. This is make-or-break for law enforcement.”
The shift could play a role in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Harvard University researcher Michael Zoorob studied the police union support for Mr. Trump in the 2016 election and found police accounted for more than 13,000 votes in Michigan — greater than Mr. Trump’s margin of victory over Hillary Clinton — and more than 27,000 votes in Pennsylvania.
Those votes could help Mr. Trump make up ground even as he trails Mr. Biden by double digits, according to some national polls.
Union chapters that have never endorsed political candidates at any level are siding with the president, and that advocacy is trickling down to other offices.
Mr. Beakman’s organizations made first-ever endorsements this year to back a Republican slate of candidates.
The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association has endorsed state and regional candidates for 40 years but this year made Mr. Trump their first federal endorsement in nearly 20 years.
“Because of this particular election process with ‘defund the police,’ we decided to get involved in this presidential election,” said the association’s executive director, John Midgette.
The series of defections is a major embarrassment for Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden, who during more than four decades in Washington was seen as a key ally of both unions and police.
Mr. Biden was the driving force behind the 1994 crime bill that included grant money to help communities hire 100,000 more police officers. It empowered them with new tools and heightened penalties for criminals.
In 2009, Mr. Biden donated $26,000 in leftover campaign funds to build a memorial for fallen law enforcement in his home state of Delaware.
But the fracture line between Mr. Biden and police widened this year after the death of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests.
As racial justice protests broke out across the country, with some turning into violent riots, Mr. Biden called for dramatic overhauls to policing. He has proposed more investigations into local departments. Asked at the first presidential debate whether he would call Democratic leaders in Oregon and tell them to put a lid on more than 100 days of mayhem, he demurred, saying it’s not his place because he isn’t in office.
He also sought to distance himself from the 1994 crime bill, which has been blamed for the mass incarcerations of Black men.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, unabashedly voiced support for law enforcement. He chided Mr. Biden for what the president says has been a tepid denunciation of rioters.
Mr. Trump says Mr. Biden is so worried about angering his party’s left wing that he is embracing lawless demonstrators over police.
Law enforcement organizations have seized on the contrast and have mobilized for a candidate like never before.
The National Association of Police Organizations, which endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 because Mr. Biden was on the ticket, has endorsed Mr. Trump. It did not endorse a candidate in 2016.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, also has endorsed Mr. Trump, though it did so in 2016 as well.
Mr. Trump picked up the backing of the International Union of Police Associations and the NYC Police Benevolent Association.
Even the Delaware Fraternal Order of Police in Mr. Biden’s backyard broke for Mr. Trump.
“Trump is the only candidate who is even mentioning the word police in a positive manner,” said Mr. DiGiacomo, who said this is the first year he can remember the NYCDEA backing a White House nominee. “The other candidate is afraid to say police in a positive way, and I find that disturbing.”
The fissure goes beyond mere endorsements.
The NYCDEA launched a voter registration drive for its members and has several initiatives to educate members about local, state and national candidates.
A group of retired Philadelphia police officers has formed a political action committee, Protect our Police, to target political candidates who are advocating for slashes to police department budgets. It raised $750,000 in its first three weeks.
Mr. Biden has picked up some backing. The National Coalition of Justice Practitioners, a group of more than 10,000 high-ranking law enforcement officers, is supporting him, and 190 law enforcement officers signed a statement hailing the former vice president.
Charles P. Wilson, chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives, has personally endorsed Mr. Biden. His organization cannot support a political candidate because it is a nonprofit.
“I believe the police reform platform Mr. Biden is putting forward is one that will work,” he said. “It is one that represents the true concepts of police accountability and rule of law. The concepts the current administration is putting out there are divisive and discriminatory.”
Mr. Wilson said he doubts the support for Mr. Trump within law enforcement organizations is as strong as their leaders claim. None of the organizations has conducted significant membership polls to learn where they stand, he said.
“Those who are in opposition to those endorsements have just not forcefully come out because they still have to work with those stupid sons of bitches,” he said.
Mr. Beakman, though, sees a complete change of mindset for many officers.
After he attended the Trump rally last month, he posted a picture to Facebook of himself wearing a Make America Great Again face mask and hat at the rally. If he had done that a year ago, he said, he would have been blasted by colleagues. When he did it last month, there was largely silence.
James Albert, the sheriff in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, wrote a scathing op-ed in a local paper explaining why he changed his party affiliation to Republican.
Mr. Albert, 70, who was a Democrat his entire life, said he was outraged by Democrats’ refusal to condemn “arson, mob rule and attacks against law enforcement.”
“These outrageous, lawless acts have been met with silence, acquiescence and, in some instances, outright support from the local, state and national leadership of the Democratic Party,” he wrote.
He is not the only sheriff to publicly break from the Democratic Party. Tom Latham, the sheriff for Posey County, Indiana, posted on Facebook that he has switched parties to become a Republican. He said the Democratic Party had gone too far and “demeaned and demonized” police.
In Vanderburgh County, Indiana, County Sheriff Dave Wedding, elected twice to office as a Democrat, announced last month that he has also switched to the Republican Party.
Despite his frustration with his party, Mr. Beakman said, he doesn’t want to leave it.
“If I leave the party, there will be no voice to say these guys are going in the wrong direction,” he said. “I spent my life as a union leader, and I do believe in some of the things the Democratic Party used to talk about. If I walked away from this, who is going to sit there and say you guys are wrong?”
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