U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy says he wants to talk with FBI Director James Comey, who recently suggested that viral videos of police actions could be contributing to a rise in violent crime.
Leahy said he supports the right to record police, and said better training would have prevented a recent incident involving a high school student who was knocked over at her desk and dragged from a classroom by a police officer in South Carolina.
Leahy emphasized that he has “high respect” for Comey.
“He feels his comments were taken out of context,” Leahy, D-Vt., said Monday during a meeting with the Burlington Free Press editorial board. “So I just want to sit down and talk. We meet periodically, just privately.”
Comey sparked controversy during a recent speech at the University of Chicago Law School, when he said a rise in homicides in major U.S. cities could be linked to a “chill wind” that has changed police behavior.
“It’s the one explanation that to my mind explains the calendar and the map and makes the most sense,” Comey said. “Maybe something in policing has changed. In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime?”
“I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phones held high taunting them when they get out of their cars,” Comey said, according to an online video of his speech. “They said to me, ‘We feel under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.’ I’ve been told about a senior police leader in this country who urged his force to remember that our political leadership has no tolerance for any of you being involved in the next viral video.”
Leahy, a former Chittenden County state’s attorney and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supports video recording of police.
“The more visibility of what the police do, the better, I believe — but also the more training and things for the police,” Leahy said. “I think it is outrageous to hear people say we’re going out to target police officers because they’re a police officer.”
“I have no problem with things being photographed and recorded — they should be,” Leahy added later. “Has there been racism in some of the things that have happened? Of course, and that has to be stopped. That comes about with better training.
“Good training would’ve stopped this episode we saw of the schoolgirl being — no matter how distemperate she might have been, there is no way — there is no excuse to react like that,” Leahy continued. “I think the police in Vermont have tremendously improved their ability from the days when I was state’s attorney, because they didn’t have the training. They wanted to do the right thing, but they didn’t have the training. Now more and more they have it, and I think that’s good.”
On Friday, Leahy endorsed Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan for Vermont attorney general. Both men spoke at a Vermont Democratic Party rally in Barre.
The other member of Vermont’s Senate delegation, Sen. Bernie Sanders, answered a question about police brutality at a presidential campaign event Saturday in Warner, New Hampshire.
“We have seen too many videos of police officers beating unarmed people,” Sanders said. “We just saw a terrible example of this in a school — I think it was in Charleston, South Carolina. Unacceptable behavior.”
Sanders said the vast majority of police officers do good work under difficult circumstances, but police officers should be held accountable when they break the law. He added that police departments should reflect the diversity of their communities.
This article was first published Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. Contact April Burbank at 802-660-1863 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/AprilBurbank