Press Gaggle with Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Camden, NJ
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Camden, New Jersey
12:30 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Welcome, everyone, aboard Air Force One en route to Camden, New Jersey, where we will continue to highlight the administration’s efforts to lift up what is working when it comes to building stronger communities. As part of that effort, we are releasing the Task Force on 21st Century Policing final report, which provides a blueprint for cities to develop innovative policing strategies.
We're also releasing new tools to help communities implement the task force recommendations, including the White House police data initiative, community policing grants, and a body-worn camera toolkit designed to help law enforcement and professionals and the communities they serve plan and implement body-camera-worn programs.
In addition, the administration, as you all I think have seen now, is releasing the final Equipment Working Group report, which will enhance accountability and increase transparency in federal programs that support the transfer of equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. The President will use today as an opportunity to discuss how these efforts, along with others, help build trust among law enforcement and the communities they serve.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q On the equipment ban, can you give us a sense of the scope of this? How many pieces of those banned equipment had been distributed before?
MR. SCHULTZ: Nedra, I don't have those statistics. I think the Department of Justice might be able to help you on that. I know that the President’s focus in standing up this task force in the wake of the unrest in Ferguson was looking at the here and now, what is happening under this administration and what we can do to better address this. So I know the recommendations that the task force put up apply to what the federal government is doing under the President’s watch, and the policy changes that we announced yesterday and today will be in place moving forward.
In terms of equipment that has gone out in years past, sometimes in decades past, they’re drawn from different federal programs, so it's difficult for me to detail under which program every locality has those equipment, but maybe the Justice Department could be helpful to you on that.
Q They haven't even put inquiries yet, so that's why I was asking. But back in December, Josh, in a briefing, had talked about these programs were useful to public safety and cited the response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Do you all expect there could be an impact on public safety by taking these vehicles out of the local law enforcement hands?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think part of the good work that was done through this working group was making sure that we did balance the needs of law enforcement with the sorts of equipment that we found contributed to unrest in communities. So as you saw in the report, there was a set of controlled items that we believe are still appropriate to be deployed by local law enforcement. Yet in deploying those, we'll look for more stringent protocols, more transparency and more accountability in terms of how that equipment is deployed. And then there’s also that set of banned items that will no longer be available for local law enforcement.
Q Can you give us an update on what kind of briefings the President is getting on the situation in Ramadi, and if he’s reconsidering U.S. strategy there because of what’s happened?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Nedra. As you know, Ramadi has been contested over the last 18 months. We’ve always known the fight against ISIL would be long and difficult, particularly in Anbar Province. There’s no denying that this is, indeed, a setback. But there’s also no denying that we will help the Iraqis take back Ramadi.
The President is being kept up to date on the situation there. I don’t have any new strategy to preview or that’s under contemplation right now, because as we’ve said for a while now, this was going to be a long-term proposition, that there would be ebbs and flows in this fight.
Today, we are supporting the Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq with precision airstrikes and advice to the Iraqi forces. Our aircraft are in the air right now and searching for ISIL targets. They will continue to do so until Ramadi is retaken. In fact, we have conducted 32 airstrikes in Ramadi in the past three weeks, including eight over the past 24 hours. These strikes will be continuing. ISIL will ultimately be defeated in Ramadi and elsewhere in Iraq because we believe that Iraqi forces have the capacity to ultimately take Ramadi with coalition support.
Q -- take Ramadi back quickly?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I think our coalition will continue to launch airstrikes in the region. We’re continuing to talk with Iraqi security forces how we can best support their operations there. And we are, indeed, working closely with Prime Minister Abadi and Iraqi government on an appropriate response.
Q On the equipment ban, you mentioned that this is sort of a here and now and going forward policy. Will this be in effect once the President leaves office? Is this now the government policy going forward? Or because it’s part of an executive order, is this only in place for the life of his tenure?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Julie, the equipment ban is in place effective immediately and it is part of an executive order.
Q So it expires when he leaves office -- is that how that works? Okay. On Camden itself, you’ve said and administration officials have been talking about how Camden is an example of a success story where community-oriented policing has really made a difference. The ACLU and New Jersey and some of the other law enforcement organizations or civil rights organizations there have criticized what’s gone on in Camden, saying that while there may have been some progress, there’s been more incidents of routine and very minor stops for things like a broken light and that there’s sort of a broken windows approach there. And also a bunch of -- I think more than 60 incidents have an excessive use of force, most of which were later found to have been without foundation. So I wonder if the President is aware of these. Is he concerned about it? Does he think that Camden is a success story, or do they still have a lot of work to do?
MR. SCHULTZ: Julie, we think Camden does have a remarkable story of making significant success. As you point out, they’re not done. There’s still a lot of work to be done.
In terms of the specifics you cited, I would refer you to the department, who can walk you through that. We are fully aware of both the challenges that they face on the ground but also the progress they’ve made. I think it is important to point out the department has increased the number of their officers, has improved the environment in which the public can register the sort of complaints that you’ve talked about, and also broaden the definition of “excessive force” to capture more complaints.
So part of what we’ll be talking about is increased transparency and increased accountability. So I think that speaks directly to some of the concerns you’ve raised. I do think it’s important to note that, overall, violent crime statistics show dramatic improvements in Camden in 2012m with homicides down 47 percent, and shootings down 54 percent. In addition, the average respond time to 911 calls is now less than five minutes -- down from more than 60 minutes three years ago.
Q And can you say, generally, as part of the rationale for going to Camden that the President wants to actually praise some practices by police rather than just cracking down on some of the abuses we've seen and some of the questionable practices like the use of military-style equipment?
MR. SCHULTZ: Absolutely, Julie. In the wake of Ferguson, when the President stood up the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, part of what their mission was [was] to go out and look into the country and identify best practices from local law enforcement agencies around the country. So, as you point out, there’s been some situations that have seen unrest in communities that are particularly going through some challenging times. But Camden is one of those places where they have been able to rebuild a relationship between law enforcement and the community they serve, really strengthen that relationship and bridge the gap that once existed of deep divide and deep mistrust.
Q We're going to land in Philadelphia today. Was any consideration given to visiting the site of the Amtrak derailment?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you for asking. Upon landing in Philadelphia, the President will thank Mayor Nutter and the city’s first responder team for their swift work to treat the wounded and save lives after the derailment of the Amtrak train last week. We’ll get a little bit more for you after this happens. But when we land, the President is going to meet Senator Casey; Mayor Nutter; the Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Chuck Ramsey, who also chaired the task force; the Philadelphia Fire Commissioner, the Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor of Public Safety for the city of Philadelphia; and the Director of Emergency Management of the city of Philadelphia.
Q Did he consider visiting the site, as well?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't think so. We plan on thanking the first responders there for their courageous actions.
Q -- that meeting. Is it at the airport?
MR. SCHULTZ: It is at the airport. I think we’ll do our best to get you a readout.
Q Up on the Hill, Mitch McConnell is floating a two-month extension of the Patriot Act because he doesn't think the USA Freedom Act, which you guys obviously support, has been worked out enough to get support among senators. Would you guys be willing to sign that two-month extension?
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, our strategy on these important intelligence matters is to not kick the can down the road. Congress has known of this impending deadline for months and months. The June 1st expiration should not be taking anyone by surprise. Republicans and Democrats alike have voiced resistance to a reauthorization of any length. And as I noted on Friday, the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act with a large bipartisan majority. So this seems to be a piece of legislation that not only enjoys the President’s support, but is supported by Republicans, Democrats, privacy experts, and our intelligence community.
Q On trade, two questions. The first, both Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell expressed confidence over the weekend on the Sunday shows that trade would pass. Do you guys share that confidence? Do you think that you have the votes now?
And then Elizabeth Warren today released a report saying that so far the Labor Department has been slow and ineffective in implementing existing labor protections, and making the argument that stuff that's baked into TPA would also be poorly implemented by the administration. What’s your response to that?
Q So on the trade protections, I would point out that the -- I didn't see the details of that, but I would just separate out TPP, which under the President’s direction, would for the first time have enforceable labor, human rights, and environmental standards. I know in past agreements they were included on side deals and side notes and side letters. This time, for the first time, it will be included in an enforceable way in the body of the text.
In terms of passage in the United States Congress, I don't have an updated whip count for you. I saw those comments on the Sunday shows, as well. We are confident in our argument. We're confident that these are the types of trade deals that will be good for the American worker, good for American jobs.
Q Last one on the ISIS fighter that was killed over the weekend. Obviously, he was important enough for you guys to send in a mission into Syria. But he wasn’t among the ISIS members that had a bounty on his head. Can you explain sort of how important he was actually in the hierarchy at ISIS and how much you expect --
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, Justin. We did seek to capture Abu Sayyaf because he’s a senior ISIL leader who, among other things, had a senior role in overseeing ISIL’s oil and gas operations, which is a key source of revenue -- oil and gas operations, a key source of revenue that enables the terrorist organization to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians. He was also involved with military operations. He may have also been complicit in the enslavement of a young Yazidi woman that we rescued.
Q Thank you.
12:43 P.M. EDT