ATLANTA - Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with one of the nation's leading police organizations in Atlanta on Tuesday.
"I've always understood the value of this organization," Sessions told the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE). "I respect what you do."
Sessions spoke at NOBLE's 41st Annual Training Conference and Exhibition at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta.
Sessions spoke about the Justice Department's "commitment to support law enforcement and reinforce the rule of law."
"I'm here on behalf of President Trump and the Department of Justice to say thank you," Sessions told attendees. "The Department of Justice is proud to stand with you."
Sessions told NOBLE he respects their work and looks forward to partnering with the organization.
"We have your back, we are in this together. We cannot restore public safety in our country if we are not united," Sessions said. "We can all agree that you are safer on your rounds when everyone respects law enforcement. The communities you serve are safer if everyone respects law enforcement."
NOBLE President Perry Tarrant held a news conference following Sessions' appearance. Tarrant addressed controversial remarks President Trump made last week, that police shouldn't be "nice" to suspects by shielding their heads as they are lowered, handcuffed, into police cars.
"The President's remarks a few days ago caused us a little bit of concern", Tarrant said.
Tarrant told reporters Sessions met privately with NOBLE leadership to discuss the remarks Tarrant called troubling. "One of our conversations was about professionalism of law enforcement and the potential harm that off the cuff comments like those made by the President have in detracting from the trust that local law enforcement communities have."
NOBLE, the latest law enforcement organization to voice concern over the negative impact the President's remarks could have in communities where police have made progress in gaining citizens' trust.
Tarrant said Sessions told NOBLE leaders he understands their concerns, and underscored that the Justice Department is committed to protecting every person's civil rights.
For Sessions, leading the Justice Department is an opportunity to make tangible progress on issues he long championed, sometimes in isolation among fellow Republicans, during two decades in the U.S. Senate: hard-line immigration policies and aggressive prosecutions of gangs, drugs and gun crime. His priorities mark a departure for a department that, during the Obama administration, increasingly focused on preventing high-tech attacks from abroad, white-collar crime and the threat of homegrown violent extremism.
Yet Sessions' policy focus is often overshadowed by the expanding investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia. Sessions, whose own campaign contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. have been questioned, has stepped aside from the investigation. That unnerved Trump, who subjected his attorney general to almost daily public humiliation this past week.
Ahead of his trip to Atlanta, Sessions was trying to weather the storm in San Salvador, where on a balmy afternoon his attention turned to the notoriously brutal street gang MS-13, whose violence in the U.S. has become a focal point in the immigration debate. The trip was planned before the firestorm, but Sessions hoped his work on MS-13 would help mend his tattered relationship with Trump.
"It hasn't been my best week for my relationship with the president," Sessions told The Associated Press. "But I believe with great confidence that I understand what's needed in the Department of Justice and what President Trump wants. I share his agenda."
Sessions cut his teeth as a federal prosecutor in Mobile, Alabama, at the height of the drug war, an experience that has shaped his approach to running the Justice Department. Allegations of racially charged remarks cost him a federal judgeship, but he went on to become the state's attorney general.
He was elected to the Senate in 1996 and developed a willingness to break with fellow Republicans in ways that sometimes left him on the sidelines.
He fought against efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system last year, a rare area where conservatives and liberals had found unity. He also was a leading opponent of the 2013 bipartisan bill that sought to ease immigration restrictions.
That issue drew him to Trump. Sessions was the first senator to endorse the businessman-turned-politician. Trump rewarded that support by naming Sessions as attorney general. It was, Sessions has said, a job that "goes beyond anything that I would have ever imagined for myself."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.