Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the National Fraternal Order of Police conference in Nashville today that President Trump is reversing an Obama-era directive that restricted grants of surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies — a move that one GOP senator vowed to fight with funding restrictions.
After complaints about militarized police in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama in May 2015 announced he would “prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.”
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message,” Obama said then. “…Now, there is other equipment that may be needed in certain cases but only with proper training. So we’re going to ensure that departments have what they need but also that they have the training to use it.”
On the banned list: .50 caliber weapons and ammo, grenade launchers, tanks, bayonets and camouflage uniforms excluding woodland or desert patterns. Allowed with training protocols were drones, manned aircraft, armored vehicles, explosives, battering rams and riot gear.
Sessions said today that “some of these programs, like the Department of Defense’s 1033 program that Congress signed into law more than 25 years ago, have recycled more than $5.4 billion in used gear and equipment that taxpayers had already purchased, and made it available for your agencies to repurpose it in the fight against terrorism, crime, and disaster relief.”
“Equipment like helicopters and armored vehicles are also vitally important to emergency and disaster response efforts,” he said. “One sheriff told me earlier this year about how, due to the prior administration’s restrictions, the federal government made his department return an armored vehicle that can change the dynamics of an active shooter situation. These are the types of helmets and gear that stopped a bullet and saved the life of an officer during the Orlando nightclub shooting. This is the type of equipment officers needed when they pursued and ultimately killed terrorists in San Bernardino. Studies have shown this equipment reduces crime rates, reduces the number of assaults against police officers, and reduces the number of complaints against police officers.”
“Those restrictions went too far. We will not put superficial concerns above public safety. All you need to do is turn on a TV right now to see that for Houstonians this isn’t about appearances, its about getting the job done and getting everyone to safety.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a statement that Americans “must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous – or false – security.”
“I disagree with Attorney General Sessions on the Department of Defense’s 1033 program. The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work with local authorities to reduce or solve crime, but it is another for them to subsidize militarization,” Paul said. “I will oppose this move by the Attorney General and the administration, and I will continue to fight for civil liberties and criminal justice reform, which will all be major issues this fall.”
“Any order that comes today still needs to be funded, and I will bring this issue to the Senate floor, including through reintroducing my Stop Militarizing Our Law Enforcement Act.”
The attorney general congratulated officers on a June Gallup poll showing that Americans’ confidence in law enforcement had returned to its historical average at 57 percent. That number fell to 52 percent in 2015, the lowest point since 1993.
“That is a testament to the work you do every day,” Sessions said. “But some would undermine this support by portraying law enforcement officers as the enemy. Instead of recognizing that the Justice Department vigorously prosecutes officers in the cases when they violate the civil rights of our citizens, they choose to slander all of the honorable men and women in law enforcement who serve every day with professionalism, integrity, and selflessness.”
“Their divisive rhetoric treats police officers like the problem, instead of the crucial allies that you all are. So it can come as no surprise when we see rising levels of violence against law enforcement.”