Donald Trump's police brutality comments 'making a joke' - White House

US President Donald Trump's comments appearing to endorse police brutality, while speaking to law enforcement officials last week, were "making a joke", the White House says.

Mr Trump was in New York when he made the controversial comments last week, advising police officers, "Please don't be too nice", when arresting alleged criminals.

"Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, [at that point Mr Trump gestures at his head], don't hit their head and they've just killed somebody, don't hit their head, I said, 'You can take the hand away, okay?'"

The comments drew applause, laughter and cheers from his audience, but have since been panned by police departments across the country.

New York Police Department's Commissioner James O'Neill said Mr Trump's comments were inappropriate.

"To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public," he told local media.

Now the White House has tried to clear the air.

During a press briefing on Monday (local time), White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr Trump didn't mean it.

"I believe he was making a joke at the time," she said.

The Suffolk County Police Department, where Mr Trump's event took place, reiterated on Twitter that mistreatment of prisoners isn't allowed.

"The SCPD has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously," it tweeted.

"As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners."

The controversial comments came just days after Mr Trump gave a speech at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, which has been labelled "classless and disgraceful" by attendees.

During that speech the president threatened to fire a Cabinet member, attacked Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, marvelled at the size of the crowd, and warned the boys about the "fake media".

At the time he was speaking to around 25,000 boy scouts, mostly young children.