President Obama announced in New Jersey today that he’s going to “prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.”
The new policies on surplus military equipment that is donated by the federal government to state and local law enforcement agencies came after the riots and complaints about militarized police in Ferguson, Mo.
“You know, 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.
“…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.”
Obama added that the “overwhelming majority of police officers are good and honest and fair.”
“They care deeply about their communities, they put their lives on the line every day to keep them safe,” he said. “Their loved ones wait and worry until they come through the door at the end of their shift. So we should do everything in our power to make sure they are safe and help them do the job the best they can.”
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 will be drones, manned aircraft, armored vehicles, explosives, battering rams and riot gear.
Rules on equipment not listed won’t change, the order says. “For example, nuclear weapons will remain on DOD’s restricted (i.e., prohibited) list even though they were not specifically included in the Working Group’s prohibited list.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who has introduced legislation to demilitarize police, praised Obama’s “bold action.”
Elements of the bill are in Obama’s executive order, including “banning the free transfer of certain military-grade equipment, and imposing strict oversight and transparency measures to ensure the equipment that is transferred is used properly,” Johnson said.
“I’m going to continue fighting to see these and other ideas passed into law and made permanent. Just last week, House Republicans stonewalled my efforts to restrict free transfer of weaponry under the 1033 program. Instead, they voted to expand the program that transfers free military surplus to local police departments under the guise of border security, proving that this Congress and a future Republican president cannot be trusted to rein in this program,” he said.
“I appreciate the president’s leadership on this issue and look forward to working with my colleagues to rein in the Pentagon’s weapons pipeline – we must remember that military equipment fundamentally changes the relationship between police and the communities they serve, and is the opposite of what should be happening on our main streets.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said city streets shouldn’t “be filled with tear gas, sound cannons, MRAPs, or other weapons of war.”
“I witnessed first-hand, high-powered sniper rifles with night scopes being pointed at my constituents who were peacefully exercising their constitutional rights,” said Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). “That kind of police militarization is harmful and it deepens the already wide gulf of mistrust that exists between communities of color and some local law enforcement agencies.”