Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed a major black law enforcement group Tuesday in Atlanta.
Sessions’ speech at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives conference came just days after President Donald Trump said police shouldn't be "nice" to suspects by shielding their heads as they are lowered, handcuffed, into police cars.
Sessions did not directly address the president's comments, but said police officers need the support of the community as they do a dangerous job.
"You deserve the support and respect of every American, and I'm here today on behalf of President Trump and the Department of Justice to say, 'Thank you.' I am proud to stand with you. The Department of Justice is proud to stand with you," Sessions said, drawing applause from the crowd. "We have your back. We are in this together."
Trump's comment on Friday is now described by the White House as a joke. It angered some police who said it only served to dial back progress they'd made with the people they serve.
Perry Tarrant, assistant chief of the Seattle Police Department and current president of the NOBLE, said he believes "off-the-cuff" comments like Trump's can detract from local police officers' efforts to build trust in their communities.
Sessions also spoke to NOBLE’s leadership on Tuesday. Tarrant said Sessions told the group’s leaders he believes Trump made the comments in jest but that he understands the effect such comments can have and underscored the Department of Justice's commitment to protecting everyone's civil rights.
Other attendees at the conference approached by The Associated Press declined to comment on the president's comments or Sessions' address.