Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has implored President Obama to reconsider his decision on blocking some surplus military equipment from police departments, arguing he could be putting officers’ lives at risk.
Obama announced this week new policies on equipment that is donated by the federal government to state and local law enforcement agencies. Complaints about militarized police came after the riots and protests 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.
In a letter to Obama today, Toomey said he didn’t object to the inclusion of some items on the banned list. “After all, we are unlikely to hear many complaints over a ban on bayonets, given that our military has not led a bayonet charge since the Korean War,” he wrote.
“But many of the listed items are purely defensive, such as riot helmets, riot shields, and armored personal transport vehicles. They are surplus Department of Defense items that the federal government will not use, and therefore donates to local police departments. After the riots in Baltimore, Ferguson, and New York City, where protesters torched police cars and hurled bricks, cement blocks, and glass bottles at law enforcement, why would we make it harder to send riot gear that would otherwise sit unused to unprotected police officers across the country?” he continued.
“I would not want a police officer to respond to the recent gang shoot-out at Waco, Texas—which killed nine and wounded 18—without ready access to full protective equipment, including, if needed, an armored vehicle. And armored vehicles were essential in providing protection and transportation to law enforcement in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.”
Toomey said the report of Obama’s working group on police militarization “treats the need to save police lives as something to be weighed against—and sacrificed to—the desire to prevent distrust or discomfort on the part of others.”
“What ‘wrong message’ is sent by allowing law enforcement access to purely defensive equipment such as riot helmets and riot shields? Such equipment sends the message that rioters might have a hard time if their objective is to injure police officers,” the senator wrote. “And in the event that some do get a ‘wrong message,’ how does that concern outweigh saving the lives of police? How many police lives are we willing to sacrifice? One? Twenty? One hundred? We just observed National Police Week and honored those whose names were added to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. How many more names must we add to that wall before we decide that protecting police lives must be a paramount consideration?”
“I am also deeply concerned that your Working Group bought into a false narrative about law enforcement—one that paints America’s police officers as the cause of unrest and violence, as opposed to the brave defense against it.”
Toomey noted that the working group didn’t “cite a single instance of local police misusing federal equipment; it just assumes that police will regard new equipment as an opportunity to abuse their power.”
“This is insulting to our law enforcement officers—the vast majority of whom are honest, hardworking men and women motivated solely by the desire to protect and serve, and who do not have a racist bone in their body,” he added.