The White House has announced that federal programs to pass certain surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies will come to an end.
The programs have garnered attention as public concern has grown about the blurred lines between policing and military operations, especially as relations between law enforcement officers and the communities—particularly minority communities—have soured, and images of police confronting protesters in heavy military gear have spread via the news media.
President Obama will announce today that police officers will not be able to obtain “[tracked] armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, and large-caliber firearms” through federal swap programs.
There is an exception: Law enforcement agencies that meet certain standards for training—including policies in place for better relations with their communities—will be able to obtain certain controlled surplus items. And that list includes lots of equipment that might still concern critics of law enforcement militarization, including armored personnel carriers, all-terrain vehicle, and drones.
New attention to the killings of unarmed suspects and the response to the demonstrations such killings ignite have led reformers to push for more community-oriented policing. Today’s news will be delivered by the president in Camden, New Jersey, a city troubled by crime where those kinds of police reforms have begun to take root. While the ban on weapons transfers will get the headlines, the president is also providing new tools for towns to equip their police officers with body cameras to increase accountability and underscore community policing guidelines his administration began developing in December.
Police officers tend to push back against restrictions on the kinds of equipment they can use, and representatives of law enforcement agencies told US lawmakers (pdf) last year that most of the equipment is largely defensive.
A bloody shootout yesterday between multiple biker gangs and a police officers in Waco, Texas—which left nine dead, none of them officers—will underscore the risks that police officers face in a country where gun laws make obtaining powerful weapons a fairly simple task for criminals.