Obama to Limit Military-Style Equipment for Police Forces


President Obama on Monday will ban the federal provision of some types of military-style equipment to local police departments and sharply restrict the availability of others, administration officials said.

The ban is part of Mr. Obama’s push to ease tensions between law enforcement and minority communities in reaction to the crises in Baltimore; Ferguson, Mo.; and other cities.

He is taking the action after a task force he created in January decided that police departments should be barred from using federal funds to acquire items that include tracked armored vehicles, the highest-caliber firearms and ammunition, and camouflage uniforms. The ban is part of a series of steps the president has made to try to build trust between law enforcement organizations and the citizens they are charged with protecting.

Mr. Obama planned to promote the effort on Monday during a visit to Camden, N.J. The city, racked by poverty and crime, has become a national model for better relations between the police and citizens after replacing its beleaguered police force with a county-run system that prioritizes community ties.

Mr. Obama is expected to hold up Camden as a counterpoint to places like Ferguson, where the killing of a young black man by a white police officer last summer and the violent protests that followed exposed long-simmering hostility between law enforcement agencies and minorities in cities around the country.

The trip and the action on military-style equipment are to coincide with the release on Monday of a report from a policing task force that Mr. Obama formed late last year in response to the crisis in Ferguson. The 116-page report calls for law enforcement agencies to “embrace a guardian — rather than a warrior — mind-set to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public.” It contains dozens of recommendations for agencies throughout the country.

“We are, without a doubt, sitting at a defining moment in American policing,” Ronald L. Davis, the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Department of Justice, told reporters in a conference call organized by the White House. “We have a unique opportunity to redefine policing in our democracy, to ensure that public safety becomes more than the absence of crime, but it must also include a presence for justice.”

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government sharply expanded its efforts to provide police departments with automatic weapons, armored vehicles and other military-style gear through grant programs at the Homeland Security and Justice Departments and transfers from the Defense Department. The programs have enjoyed widespread popularity among lawmakers eager to take steps to protect their communities and constantly in search of ways to steer federal money to their districts and states.

The report from the task force on military equipment cited the police response to the Ferguson unrest as an example of how the “militarization” of police departments can lead to fear and mistrust. In addition to prohibiting some equipment outright, officials said, Mr. Obama accepted the group’s recommendation to impose new restrictions on other military-style items, such as wheeled armored vehicles, pyrotechnics, battering rams and riot gear, and more stringent requirements for training and information collection for departments that acquire them.

The report to be released on Monday represents a two-pronged response to a problem that has emerged as a central predicament for Mr. Obama in recent months. He has struggled to acknowledge the sense of fear, grievance and victimization by the police that dominates many minority communities without seeming to forgive violence or condemn law enforcement with a broad brush.

In doing so, he is grappling with the limits of his power to force changes in police departments around the country, where practices and procedures are varied and the federal government’s ability to influence change can be minimal. The equipment task force stems from an executive order, and its conclusions affect only the material supplied by the federal government, while the policing recommendations are merely a blueprint for what Mr. Obama would like to see happen in jurisdictions throughout the country.

Mr. Obama on Monday will announce $163 million in grants to encourage police departments to adopt the suggestions. The administration also will launch a “tool kit” for the use of body-worn cameras; the Justice Department created a grant program for law enforcement agencies to purchase them.

Ms. Muñoz said the task force’s report was “not just a blueprint for us and for local law enforcement agencies, but also for community leaders and others and stakeholders,” giving them “some very specific things to be asking for and, frankly, insisting on in order to improve policing practices.”

That is why Mr. Obama made plans to visit Camden, where he wants to highlight a policing model that emphasizes a collaborative approach. Camden is also one of 20 cities participating in a new White House initiative to enhance the use of police data, by releasing detailed information on such things as traffic stops, officer-involved shootings and the use of force.


2 Responses to “Obama to Limit Military-Style Equipment for Police Forces”

  1. WilliamStevens Says:

    When the riots were in full swing in Baltimore and Ferguson, how many people were seriously or permanently injured or killed by police, as opposed to the hundreds of people hurt by the rioters? It’s hard to sell the police as out-of-control bullies when they’re the only ones showing restraint when everything falls into chaos, even while dozens of officers are being injured left and right.

    Given how they’ve managed to curtail the damage of the last few riots without seriously harming anyone, is police misuse of that equipment really that big of a threat?

    • atasteofcreole Says:

      Just like the Duke professor who stated part of the problems are blacks refuse to integrate while Asians, while considered colored, take American Sur name and work harder.

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