President clears the way for police to obtain military gear
WASHINGTON (AP) — Police departments soon will have access to grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons and other surplus U.S. military gear after President Donald Trump signed an order Monday reviving a Pentagon program that civil rights groups say inflames tensions between officers and their communities.
Former President Barack Obama had sharply curtailed the program in 2015 amid an outcry about the heavily-armed police response to protesters after several police killings of black men in Ferguson, Mo., and other cities. The Trump administration maintains the program is needed to protect public safety and support state and local police.
Restoring the program will “ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a cheering crowd during a national convention of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tenn. The group, America’s largest organization of rank-and-file officers, endorsed Trump for president after he promised to revamp the program.
Sessions said restrictions imposed by Obama went too far.
“We will not put superficial concerns above public safety,” he said.
In issuing the order, Trump is fulfilling a campaign pledge made as he depicted crime as rampant and police forces undercut by unfair criticism, with Obama failing to support them sufficiently. Trump, feeling increasingly under attack in recent weeks, has doubled down on appeals to core supporters. Last week, he pardoned controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of defying a judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos.
Sessions has been steadily restoring tough-on-crime policies while reshaping the way his Justice Department enforces civil rights law, particularly in the areas of policing, in ways that made advocates nervous.
Civil liberties groups and some lawmakers assailed Trump’s order as a sign of the militarization of local police, arguing the equipment encourages and escalates violent confrontations with officers.
“Tensions between law enforcement and communities remain high, yet the president and the attorney general are giving the police military-grade weaponry instead of practical, effective ways to protect and serve everyone,” said Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.