Yesterday, the Obama Administration released a report on Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition, which reviewed the programs that provide law enforcement agencies with equipment. The programs are controversial, some giving free excess military equipment to local law enforcement officials to use against American citizens.
The urgency of the militarized police situation has faded quite a bit since the beginning of the Ferguson incident in early August. Indeed, there would seem to be some cognitive dissonance on the situation as the world watched a band of hooligans burn down businesses and parts of the city of Ferguson following the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. Still, the issue is troubling, as the line between keeping the peace and allowing freedom of expression is a fine albeit critical one.
The administration ordered the report back in August of this year back when many Americans were surprised to see such equipment on display at the demonstrations in Ferguson. The report found that there is:
a lack of consistency in how federal programs are structured, implemented and audited, and informed by conversations with stakeholders, identifies four areas of further focus that could better ensure the appropriate use of federal programs to maximize the safety and security of police officers and the communities they serve: 1) Local Community Engagement, 2) Federal Coordination and Oversight, 3) Training Requirements, and 4) The Community Policing Model.
The President has instructed that Executive Orders be drafted to order relevant agencies and law enforcement to work together with civil liberties organizations to develop specific recommendation with 120 days. Some potential “process improvements” might be:
Develop a consistent list of controlled property allowable for acquisition by LEAs and ensure that all equipment on the list has a legitimate civilian law enforcement purpose.
Require local civilian (non-police) review of and authorization for LEAs to request or acquire controlled equipment.
Mandate that LEAs which participate in federal equipment programs receive necessary training and have policies in place that address appropriate use and employment of controlled equipment, as well as protection of civil rights and civil liberties. Agencies should identify existing training opportunities and help LEAs avail themselves of those opportunities, including those offered by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and the International Association of Law Enforcement Standards and Training.
Require after-action analysis reports for significant incidents involving federally provided or federally-funded equipment.
Harmonize federal programs so that they have consistent and transparent policies.
Develop a database that includes information about controlled equipment purchased or acquired through Federal programs.
The President will also issue an executive order to create a task force on 21st Century Policing to be headed by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey And Laurie Robinson. Ramsey also serves as the President of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association and Robinson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Office of Justice.
In addition, Obama proposes a three-year $263M “investment package” to increase the use of body cameras on police forces. The program will include a 50% match to police programs who purchase body cams.
Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Ars that the ACLU is “hoping that the administration will practice what it preaches” when it comes to giving out body cameras and ensuring that the equipment comes with rules and training.